On April 10, Napalm Death and the Melvins came to the Masquerade, co-headlining the Savage Imperial Death March Tour. They’re all still at the top of their game, and packing in shows. They’re doing 35 shows in 42 days, blazing through 22 states and 3 Canadian provinces. I’m tired just describing it, but this is par for the course for these two bands, each with their own reputation for playing long, intense sets and not taking many days off. The Melvins set a world record by traveling around the USA, playing all 50 states plus Washington DC in 51 days in 2012 (they released a DVD of this tour, made up entirely of mobile phone footage crowd-sourced from their fans! You can find it here).
“We have been talking about doing a tour like this for a long time, so we are thrilled it’s finally happening,” says Napalm Death bass player Shane Embury in an interview with Loudwire. “Having been long time fans and friends of the Melvins we are very happy to be embarking on this six-week tour of musical madness with them and Melt Banana. Expect the unexpected!”
There were a lot of old school metal fans out that night. Both the Melvins and Napalm Death have been touring since the early 80s (I just did a quick calculation and the combined touring experience of the bands on this billing is 90 years!).
Melt-Banana, a Japanese duo whose style is best described as “Noise/Punk/Something Not of this Earth/Seriously, What is That,” joins them on tour. Melt-Banana has been a cult sensation for more than twenty years, primarily in the United States and UK. It helps that their songs are in English. They formed in 1992, and were signed within 6 months when they gained the attention of legendary producer Steve Albini. They’ve had a drummer and bass player previously, but have functioned as a tight, efficient duo for most of their career. Guitarist Ichirou Agata is known for his ability to draw “non-guitar sounds” from his guitar. He does this with his unusual playing style, using pick scrapes, odd harmonics, and feedback as well multiple synths, distortions and other effects spread across two pedalboards onstage. Yasuko Onuki matches his frenetic style with her own, and she drives the backbeat using a wireless MIDI controller in one hand as she sings into her mic in the other. The crowd was digging it. Melt-Banana closed their set by saying “instead of playing 3 long songs, we will play 6 short ones,” and proceeded to play six spastic musical vignettes, each no more than 90 seconds long, like the musical equivalent of a bento box.
The Melvins played next, and the crowd was ready to start moshing. These guys are classic metal and are still drawing new, younger fans. King Buzzo, the lead singer and guitarist played a cool aluminum guitar that gave a distinct edge to his sound, and an explanation for his name. The Melvins took their time and ran through hits from their entire 30-year career. You can only pack so much into a 90 minute set, though. King Buzzo prowled the stage in a wizard’s robe decorated with eyeballs, while drummer Dale Crover and bassist Steven McDonald helpfully wore shirts which read “Drums” and “Bass” in glitter. The Melvins got their start back in 1983, and have cultivated an underground following of influential artists. Maybe you don’t like the Melvins, but many of your favorite rockers sure do. Their sludgy sound laid the seeds for Seattle’s grunge rock scene. Progressive metal bands like Tool and Mastodon also consider the Melvins an important influence. They produced a high intensity set that demonstrated what a finely tuned gigging machine they’ve become. There was a sizeable mosh pit and crowd surfers bobbed on the surface to fall into the photo pit.
Napalm Death closed the night. Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne adds, “Napalm Death sounds like a gorilla on LSD firing a machine gun… and I mean that in a good way. We’re happy to be heading out with the ultimate grindcore pioneers.” Sometimes a band doesn’t sound like their name. Napalm Death is not that band. While none of the original members from 1983 are still in the band, the current lineup had all found their place in the band by 1991. It’s crazy to think you might start a band with your friends, everyone with whom you started that band leaves at some point, and that band is still going strong a quarter-century after the fact. One thing that has not changed over the years is the absolute face-flapping loudness and intensity of this band. Grindcore came into existence because these guys birthed it. Their live shows are equally intense. Napalm Death blasted through their set, from the first downbeat to the last dissonant feedback. For a full 80 minutes, vocalist Mark Greenway ran from one end of the stage to the other, from the drum riser into the photo pit to goad the audience, and then back to the drum riser. The audience met his energy in kind, and it was hard to find a place in the room untouched by the chaos in motion. Apex Predator – Easy Meat is their 15th and most recent release.
The Savage Imperial Death March tour continues through May 8, and you can see the rest of the dates here.