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Heavy music mavericks the Melvins return to Berkeley's Cornerstone

SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the course of a 35+ year career playing by their own rules, guitarist Buzz Osborne and monster drummer Dale Crover have co-piloted seminal underground rock band the Melvins through a wildly diverse exploration of heavy music. Inspired by the slow tempos and down-tuned guitar sludge of Black Sabbath as well as the dissonance of punk iconoclasts Flipper and My War-era Black Flag, the Melvins became legends in Washington State during their formative years in the early-to-mid 1980s after being founded in the small town of Montesano.

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The band's combination of crushing riffs and lumbering grooves would end up influencing the entire Northwest music scene. Aberdeen natives and early fans Kurt Cobain (who at one point auditioned for the band) and Krist Novoselic were inspired to form Nirvana, while fellow grunge heavyweights like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden similarly updated the Sabbath template. The Melvins have been credited as a cornerstone inspiration for a number of heavy rock subgenres, providing the template for stoner-rock bands and experimental drone terrorists alike.

Eye Flys by Melvins - Topic on YouTube

With a revolving cast of bassists, the Melvins have produced a veritable landslide of experimentally minded releases that have consistently pushed the envelope of alternative rock. Whether recording for major label Atlantic during the early '90s or issuing discs on numerous independent imprints, the group has forged a singular, instantly recognizable sound without ever being afraid to make major experimental detours. The band has received piles of critical accolades since the start of its collaboration with with equally heavy duo Big Business featuring bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis a decade ago with the celebrated effort (A) Senile Animal in 2006.

A Talking Horse - Melvins (Live Europe 2009) Perfect Quality by Francesco Strippoli on YouTube

Powered by a massive two-drummer onslaught (the two players used a huge overlapping kit that shared some drums), that album and follow-up recordings Nude with Boots and The Bride Screamed Murder spotlit Osborne's twisted, tuneful riffs and some of the band's catchiest output yet. The group would also branch out with other collaborators, partnering with noted avant-rock bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, John Zorn) on an album and a record-breaking tour that had the trio playing 50 states and Washington, D.C. in 51 days with Dunn sticking exclusively to acoustic bass, reuniting with original drummer Mike Dillard (with Crover switching to bass), issuing a guest-packed collection of cover songs (Everybody Loves Sausages in 2013) and recording with Butthole Surfers members Paul Leary and bassist J.D. Pinkus (who had already served as a frequent touring member of the band).

In 2016, the group managed to further ramp up its already prolific output. In addition to Sub Pop issuing a set of long-shelved recordings with godheadSilo bassist Mike Kunka that were recorded back in the late '90s (credited to Mike and the Melvins and entitled Three Men and a Baby), the band toured extensively with latest bass-playing recruit Steven McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF! fame to promote their another more recent release. The Ipecac Records effort Basses Loaded featured newer material recorded with McDonald as well as songs featuring a variety of recent bassists and a guest spot from Novoselic himself.

In addition playing some shows in conjunction with screenings of the documentary The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale by co-directors Bob Hannam and Ryan Sutherby, the band members also found the time to collaborate with with singer Terri Genderbender (Le Butcherettes) and Omar Rodríguez-López (The Mars Volta, At the Drive-In) in the new group Crystal Fairy for an eponymous effort on Ipecac as well as recording their first double album, A Walk With Love and Death.

Melvins "Christ Hammer" by Ipecac Recordings on YouTube

The 2017 collection matched an album's worth of more traditional Melvins material with a second set of experimental recordings that serve as the score to an avant-garde short film entitled Love made by band friend and director Jesse Nieminen. Crover has also released his solo debut The Fickle Finger of Fate via Joyful Noise Recordings. While he had already made a number of albums as the leader of his side project band Altamont, the effort gave Crover a chance to stretch out on everything from drum experiments to fractured pop tunes.

Melvins "Embrace The Rub" (Official Video) by Ipecac Recordings on YouTube

Having already brought the band's explosive two-drummer line-up to fans, the Melvins presented another mutant version of the band with its 2018 album Pinkus Abortion Technician that features both Pinkus and McDonald playing bass. A rare exception to Melvins releases that are usually dominated by songs written by Osborne, the new effort includes a couple of reworked Butthole Surfers songs (including a twisted mash-up of the R&B/rock standard "Stop" with the Surfers song "Moving to Florida"), a warped cover of the Beatles' standard "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and a mix of originals penned by Crover, Pinkus and McDonald.

Melvins/Flipper - Sacrifice by Irresponsableful on YouTube

While the prolific band uncharacteristically did not release a new album in 2019, the Melvins performed at an all-star tribute to the late Soundgarden singer Christ Cornell at the Forum in Los Angeles in January before an extensive tour with the two-bassist line-up. They also issued a new four-song collaborative EP recorded with avowed inspiration Flipper that included the Melvins covering a pair of Flipper songs along with two tunes with the two groups' members playing together. The Melvins also put out a second collaborative EP with Swedish artist Sh-tKid (the stage name for punk songwriter Åsa Söderqvist).

The Melvins faced the downtime without touring during the pandemic by ramping up their work in the studio that came out in 2021. In addition to releasing a new effort Working With God that featured the 1983 version of the group reuniting again, the trio also issued Five-Legged Dog, a sprawling double disc acoustic collection with new recordings of songs from throughout the band's career as well as some new and reimagined covers of tunes by the Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson, the Turtles and Alice Cooper. 

Melvins "Night Goat (Acoustic)" by Ipecac Recordings on YouTube

While the December surge of COVID forced the band to cancel a pair of San Francisco shows that would have included a New Year's Eve concert, the Melvins returned to the road in 2022, joining Ministry and openers Corrosion of Conformity on a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the landmark The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste album. For this performance at the Cornerstone in Berkeley, the Melvins are joined by northwestern outfit and Sergeant House recording artist Helms Alee. 

The Seattle-based power trio has delivered an adventurous mix of fuzzed-out guitar sludge, off-kilter melodic hooks and high-harmony vocals over the course of the band's six full-length albums. Formed in 2007 when guitarist Ben Verellen (formerly a member of dirgy, prog-punk outfit Harkonen and post-hardcore crew These Arms Are Snakes) teamed with bassist Dana James and drummer Hozoji Margullis (also a member of the acclaimed duo Lozen), the group was quickly signed to Hydra Head Records for the release of their debut album Night Terror the following year.

Helms Alee - A Weirding Away by bren on YouTube

Taking cues from the Melvins (who the band has since toured with several times), tuneful alt-rock greats the Breeders and the dreamy vocals of shoegaze favorites Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins, the trio scored solid reviews with its creative take on riff-powered post punk. A second Hydra Head effort Weatherhead three years later further refined the band's signature sound with Verellen's howling balanced by the sweet counterpoint harmonies provided by James and Margullis.

Helms Alee Pinniped by yaritejohnstamos on YouTube

After Hydra Head dissolved in 2012, the band would move to Sargeant House for two efforts in 2014: a split with like-minded act Young Widows and their third full-length Sleepwalking Sailors. By this point, the group's stature had risen to where they were spoken of in the same breath as fellow purveyors of heaviness Torche and Big Business.

Helms Alee "Tripping Up The Stairs" (Official Video) by Sargent House on YouTube

The band's 2016 album Stillicide was hailed as the trio's most accessible yet while still not sacrificing any of it's trademark sludge groove. Touring heavily behind that effort, it took some time for Helms Alee to return to the studio. In 2019, the group released Noctiluca to another round of glowing reviews. However, with the pandemic keeping the band off the road in 2020, the group ended up back in the studio by the summer to record more new material. Sergeant House put out the fruits of those recording sessions -- Keep This Be the Way in late April, another fascinating exploration of heavy (and heady) psychedelia that continues to push the envelope of the Helms Alee sound. Opening San Diego band Harshmellow features singer/guitarist Otis "O" Barthoulameu and bassist Sarah Linton bashing out tuneful heaviness with Crover joining the trio on drums and vocals.

Melvins with Helms Alee and Harshmellow
Wednesday, July 20, 7 p.m. $30-$35
Cornerstone Berkeley

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