Moment Momentous: 2:54 from Melvins’ A History of Bad Men

Moment Momentous is a column which identifies and harps on about an instant where something transforms into magnificence.

For the first of these columns I wanted to pick a particular moment that felt utterly formidable, something truly titanic. With Melvins there is no shortage of these to choose from.

I may well gush about alternate examples of their exquisite, often-blissfully-maddening ferocity another time. For now I’m focusing in on A History of Bad Men, from their 2006 album A Senile Animal.

As soon as I heard it I felt like I had drank the very tears of Jesus himself – prone to downing a quarter-bottle of whisky before taking to the streets to mumble to terrified passing grannies about its brilliance. In the years since it has made an arguably even greater mark thanks to being placed in films and TV shows by canny music supervisors.

Perhaps most notably it was used in episode four of the first season of True Detective – remember those halcyon days when the show couldn’t be mentioned in public without a hushed reverence taking grip amongst everyone within a five-mile radius? as Rust Cohle went undercover (again) to ingratiate himself into a biker gang, in a flashback sequence which ultimately led to the show’s best known and most spectacular scene.

Anyway, before we get sidelined talking about that – or the pretty inconsequential detail that A History of Bad Men didn’t exist until a decade or so after the that flashback sequence was supposed to take place – let’s return to the song itself.

Not only does the track begin by unleashing two of the most thunderously heavy drummers you could ever hope to enlist in a rock band, it then throws into the mix the sort of distorted bass riff which feels like it has been hewn out of granite by Norse gods. Even at this stage, just 30 seconds in, it feels like you’re at risk of leveling continents by turning the volume up. (It also feels like it would be 100% worth it.)

At this time the main Melvins members Buzz Osborne (vocals/guitars) and Dale Crover (vocals/drums) had recruited into their ranks the rhythm section of Big Business (bassist/vocalist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis), a band who themselves are especially adept at sounding ridiculously colossal.

The mathematics for this team-up were roughly as follows:

Melvins

What I love about A History of Bad Men is that it feels like all of the constituent elements locking into place: Crover and Willis toying with each other before Warren crashes in and they lock into a relentless groove, one heavy enough that Osborne has to first carve a space for his guitar before he can launch into a snarling, leering doubled-tracked solo which lurches into the first verse – the whole song then seeming to tighten around your neck, coiling to centre on the demonic harmonies of Osborne and Warren.

Constantly building, the song seems to be searching desperately for a release, and – as it approaches the 2:54 mark – the repeating chorus refrain soars into the ether, the drums slow and almost seem to break down, and only at that moment do the band allow themselves to sink back into the blistering main bass riff. The effect is both life-affirmingly orgasmic and supremely threatening. (Best to watch out for the face you make while listening to this in public.)

Though not even halfway through it’s an insurmountable peak; after another verse and chorus the song seems to peter out in utter exhaustion at what has come before. And oh, what has come before: if you were to overthrow an entire planet this is the song you’d want on as its citizens flee in terror.* In short, it’s an outrageously visceral thrillride gleefully conjured up by the four horsemen of the sludge-metal apocalypse, and it’s pretty bloody tremendous.

What else could you possibly want from life?