This Machine Kills Artists sees Melvins’ Buzz Osborne – aka King Buzzo – make his first steps into the acoustic world. The title of the album is an appropriation and re-working of the words “This Machine Kills Fascists” which was scrawled on Woody Guthrie’s guitar back in 1941 and came to define the notion of the folk outlaw.
What Osborne is referring to is less clear, but as someone that has pretty much done things their own way since the inception of Melvins back in 1983, it’s possible to read the title as a critique of the music industry’s stifling machinations, with the existence of this album proving that this is one artist that has escaped the machine.
Unconfined by the accepted notion of what an acoustic album is supposed to be, as usual this is Osbourne doing things his own way. No time for simpering vocals or complicated classical guitar licks here, instead it’s actually pretty much business as usual. There’s no electric guitar, distortion, or Dale Crover’s pounding drums admittedly, but to all intents and purposes, This Machine Kills Artists sounds not unlike a Melvins album.
Dark Brown Teeth gets straight down to business with a rattling riff soon taking control before the vocals come in. King Buzzo has always had a way with a vocal melody; even in Melvins’ heaviest moments there’s been a kernel hidden away somewhere (admittedly this is perhaps untrue of almost the entirety of Colossus Of Destiny). On some of these songs where his singing takes a less aggressive approach to normal, this aspect of his songwriting becomes more evident.
With the stripped back approach it allows those melodies to hold their own alongside Osborne’s riffing and not be hidden in a squall of noise. Drunken Baby for example starts with a low-down and dirty guitar lick before taking a back seat and allowing the emotive, but authoritative vocal to guide. New River finds a basic but effective vocal line underpinning what could easily pass as a Led Zeppelin segue, whilst Useless King Of The Punks comes across as nothing more than a straight up folk tune.
For the most part however, this is a riff driven beast that would almost certainly benefit from addition of masses of distortion. The Blithering Idiot simply begs for some noise to kick in as Osborne’s standard rough edged vocals lead the charge with little in the way of support. Similarly, the discordant introduction of The Vulgar Joke just doesn’t sound quite vulgar enough. At best, it sounds a little unpleasant, but the knowledge that it could sound truly vile tickles at the back of the mind.
It would appear that similar concerns might have occurred to Osborne, because his vocals are treated to some quite unnerving effects, but without the usual sonic arsenal at his disposal, it doesn’t quite come off. Instrument Of God suffers from similar problems initially with the charge of acoustic guitars sounding urgent and exciting but lacking in any real power. The second half of the song however works perfectly. It meanders, in typical Melvins fashion, which suits the acoustic form perfectly.
In spite of the gripes, Osborne has to be congratulated; he has approached this album with little concern for what most would expect an acoustic album to be. It’s admirable that he’s strapped on a guitar and just started belting out riffs in the only way he knows. Whilst this does give the album a somewhat one-dimensional quality, Buzz’s riffing and attack give the songs enough personality to sound individual and prevent the album becoming an analogous mess. This is a solo album in name alone, and there’s no doubt that Melvins fans will find everything they want in each of its songs. Think of it as Melvins Lighter.