Monday, January 11, 2016

Hellraising Vinyl

By The Vinyl Apprentice

Some time ago, the Vinyl Vagabonds wrote an article about different kinds of interesting vinyl sleeves. I immediately thought of a single that a buddy of mine let me borrow once. The single was “Hooch,” a 45 by the Seattle grunge-metal rockers the Melvins, and it was a beast! Feeling in the spirit this most recent Halloween, I was summoned to “Vinyl Vagabond” it; any record this strange deserves writing about. What makes this particular one so special? To start, it is housed in an impossible to open Hellraiser "puzzle box” type multi-fold out sleeve (it's actually copyrighted as a "Hard to Open Package," so you know it's good). To get it open you actually have to bend the sleeve paper in such a way that you will feel you are going to tear it to get to the 45. Hence, once you have opened this unusual packaging, the cover automatically becomes damaged. ARRRGGH! And why ARRGH? This is a hand screened, 1,000-copy limited edition single, with the cover by none other than renowned California artist Frank Kozik. Kozik is famous for his raunchy, Day-Glo concert posters that he started making in the early 1990s. He also ran a record label for a time called Man’s Ruin Records that put out records by the Sex Pistols, Queens of the Stone Age, and many other primarily stoner metal bands. Today, Kozik is an institution in “lowbrow” art. True to his style, this particular monstrosity has devilish visuals plastered all over it. To start, the front cover has a Disney-esque Satan on it. The back cover art is creepy on a whole other level and completely different in style. It looks like a 16th century wood cut of the birth of baby Beelzebub himself. Not for the meek. Eeekkk, it is chilling to the bone. Inside the sleeve of evil, is a nasty two sided Kozik picture disc. The A side has an illustration of a cigarette smoking, mustached Diablo dad chuckling away. Side B has a green haired, red skinned, monster mommy also puffing away on a cancer stick.

But wait, there’s more to this vinyl vulgarity. Both of these tracks are from the Melvins 1993 major label debut LP, Houdini, which was partially produced by none other than, Kurt Cobain. Not only did the late Nirvana frontman produce these two songs on the 45, he also contributed with guitar work on the side B song “Sky Pup.” Now I know what you are thinking, does whatever music in those grooves live up to the collected talent involved here? I’m not sure. You see, the Melvins are one of the more experimental, noisy, punk bands. They have never created a radio hit in their lives, nor will they. It's just not in their nature. Also, while singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne’s voice is strong and interesting, it's substandard. He has zero range, he was born grotesque in this category. But wait … Kurt Cobain!?!? Surely his magic and genius would make these songs shine, and transcend the Melvins to greater heights? Wrong. Unfortunately, he was fired half way through the production of Houdini as Buzz has stated Kurt was "too out of control" with his drug problems at the time to continue producing it. If there is an ounce of Kurt on these tracks, I can’t find it.

But enough of that, let me talk about the songs themselves. The first song, “Hooch” has all the right notes to make it a classic Melvins track. It is loud and thrashy with a nice dirge-like hook and Dale Crover delivers a deep, bombastic drum beat. While the song does drone, it is a head banging, hideous tune, and I enjoy it. Side B is a different story. “Sky Pup” is a mysterious enigma. It sounds more like a song from psychedelic space rockers, the Flaming Lips than it does the Melvins. While it is kind of groovy and has a magnetic bass line, it is not very memorable. Drummer Dale sings on this track, which really sounds more like him just talking. His voice is frightful, and practically inaudible. In fact, the whole track sounds very quiet, and puts me to sleep. Snore. This song is a goofy head scratcher.

Contrary to how my review sounds, I really like the Melvins, and recommend spending your time and money getting to know them. And this single? The packaging alone is sick, and the music is decidedly weird. Pinhead would be proud. It's classic Melvins. Looking and listening to this creepy conundrum will definitely keep me up at night for years to come….

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