Sludge metal legends Melvins’ new album Tarantula Heart sees them experiment once again with some of their most ambitious and melodic material yet. I mean any album with a 19-minute opening track is spelling that out pretty clearly for you, isn’t it? Tarantula Heart is Melvins doing what they want and sticking their head as far out the box as they will stretch.

Opener ‘Pain Equals Funny’ starts of as a soft-spoken, airy psychedelic prog rock tune, meandering its way through five minutes before arriving at the album’s first sinister riff. Coming down from a bubbling drift through the upper atmosphere, the band find themselves in comfortable territory, with a snarling guitar riff and stomping drum rhythm. Singer Buzz Osborne’s voice starts to pick back up some of its signature grit as the band embrace the metallic edge. The iron-clad groove is one easy to nod your head along with, but eventually it just fades away as the tide goes back out and a creeping bassline and rattling drumsticks fill the waiting void. The distant cries of heavily affected guitars hover around the periphery, and as tension rises the next section of the song becomes visible on the horizon. A stomping riff indebted to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality lays down the groove as the guitars wail over the top and drummer Dale Crover’s fills are allowed to shine in the mix. Noise continues to overtake the track until it falls into all the instruments fade away into the rapture. As a statement of intent to open the record, ‘Pain Equals Funny’ does its job, but the transitions could’ve felt more cohesive. Every section felt like its own individual idea and never really glued the way I would’ve liked them to.

‘Working the Ditch’, with a six-minute length, is a little more manageable beast. The song has a juggernaut of a riff, with a bulletproof tone that has often characterised Melvins’ most enduring songs. With King Buzzo declaring “it was a dark time for us”, the song has a subdued darkness to it that is kept visible, but at bay. The riff stays unchanged throughout the song, facilitating the drums and lead guitars to wander as it holds down the fort. While listening to a Melvins jam is never something I’d say no to, it does feel a little tired by the end. Changing up the direction of the track would’ve given it a bit of life that it lacks.

‘She’s Got Weird Arms’ has got this off-kilter feel to it that carries through its near four minutes. Considering its title it’s fittingly weird and is an interesting idea that can’t really overstay its welcome due to a fairly short length.

‘Allergic to Food’ has my favourite riff of the bunch, with an undeniable groove that separates each vocal section, where all instruments other than the drums and vocals fall away before kicking back in with reckless intent. Whilst the formula doesn’t change up much across the track, it never really has to as the off/on dynamic with that formidable riff keeps interest throughout.

Closing track ‘Smiler’ is one of the more comprehensible tracks on the record. It follows a pretty traditional structure and sees the band give a guitar solo its space in the middle of the track. It’s pretty decent across the board, and definitely one of the tracks I’d readily return to from Tarantula Heart.

Tarantula Heart feels like an album of the Melvins jamming. Like I said, I’d happily watch that but across an album I’m less impressed. ‘Pain Equals Funny’ sounds like a couple of interlinked jams cut up and stuck together, ‘Working the Ditch’ never really finds a deep hook and ‘She’s Got Weird Arms’, whilst cool, isn’t gonna have me excited to return to the album in the same way I would Houdini or Stoner Witch. That said, ‘Allergic to Food’ and ‘Smiler’ are really solid and are pretty much worth the price of entry alone. If you’re a Melvins fan, Tarantula Heart is definitely worth checking out, you might like it a lot more than I do. If not, this isn’t the Melvins album to start with.

Melvins: Tarantula Heart – Out 19th April 2024 (Ipecac Recordings)

“Working The Ditch” (pre-order now) (