Coming off the heels of 2012’s Freak Puke and the Everybody Loves Sausages cover album, Tres Cabrones is the latest in a series of the Melvins’ odd lineup experiments. Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover are still here but Crover has been moved to bass duties to make room for original drummer Mike Dillard’s first recording with the band in decades. The resulting effort doesn’t betray the sounds set up on their most recent outings but does offer up its own set of tweaks.
With this lineup being the Melvins’ most conventional in over a decade, this album’s sound is somewhere between the laid back rock of Freak Puke and the chaotic noise on their Big Business collaborations. The guitar is the most dominant instrument as Buzzo’s signature riffs and odd structures define many of the songs on here. Dillard’s playing doesn’t quite match Crover’s bottom heavy tone and Crover himself isn’t a flashy bass player, but the rhythm section is quite adequate with Dillard in particular offering a more punk-influenced approach.
And even though most of the songs on here were previously released on a few different EPs, they all feel cohesive as a whole and go through a neat cycle of styles over the course of the album. It starts off with a series of heavy straightforward rockers, progresses to more experimental jams, and then ends on an energetic note with a couple punk covers. A few goofy recitals of traditional songs also pop up as interludes of sorts; it’s a rather odd move but one that would’ve been much less fun in the hands of another group.
The first three tracks may be the album’s most powerful as “Doctor Mule” provides some strong bursts of swagger while “City Dump” and “American Cow” feel like they could’ve been part of their early 90s repertoire. From there, “Psychedelic Haze” does have an appropriately groovy set of riffs and the one-two punch of “Walter’s Lips” and “Stick ‘Em Bitch” closes things out quite nicely.
Overall, Tres Cabrones is as hard to recommend to new listeners as ever but makes for a surprisingly enjoyable listen that is quite refreshing when compared to the more underwhelming releases that have come out this year. Some songs do feel like they should be heavier and one does wonder how the “main” lineup would’ve sounded playing this material, but the actual writing does make it worth checking out. I still think Melvins Lite may be the better trio but this works as a heavy alternative.