#973: The last album the Melvins recorded for a major label was…

Q #1,970: The last album the Melvins recorded for a major label.

A.

The last major label Melvins release was the 1996 album ‘Stag.’ Signing with Atlantic records, after the booming success of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ the band would make their major debut with the 1993 album ‘Houdini,’ with Kurt Cobain landing guitar, production, and mixing credits across the release. ‘Houdini’ landed the band at #29 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, which you would think a fairly positive endeavor for a new signing during this era of the music industry.

The following year the Melvins would release two albums, ‘Prick’ and ‘Stoner Witch.’ At face value this sounds like a very ambitious undertaking, in a very Beatles sort of release schedule. However, ‘Prick’ was supposed to be an experimental spin off of sorts, and was released through the label Amphetamine Reptile, under a mirrored version of the Melvins moniker, SNIVLEM. Releasing this album one year after a major label debut, under a rival label, more or less under the same name just to dodge contractual obligations could not have made the suits over at Atlantic happy. Their major label counterpart to ‘Prick,’ ‘Stoner Witch,’ failed to reach a chart position. Then, the following year the Melvins released the ‘Tora Tora Tora’ EP through X-Mas Records.

Not knowing any details of their contractual workings, I can only speculate on how things went down. That said, it is more than possible that Atlantic was concerned with the band as a brand, and wasn’t keen on subsequent material being released without their consent, regarding maintaining the overall ‘product.’ I say this because by the time the Melvins made it to their third (and ultimately final) major label release with ‘Stag,’ they managed to regain a chart position, hitting the Heatseekers again at #33 in 1996. The album was co-produced by GGGarth (Garth Richardson), who has worked with Nickelback, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Testament, and Chevelle to name a few (I’ve talked about GGGarth before, on his work with Testament’s ‘Low,’ and Chevelle’s ‘Chevelle – Wonder What’s Next‘).

So, with such a well seasoned producer to keep things solid, and a chart position to boot, it’s a wonder as to why this album would result in the band being dropped. It’s likely a three album deal fulfilled, with the contractual acrobatics not sitting well at Atlantic. Melvins mainman Buzz Osborne has also made it no big secret that he is far more into the legacy of punk rock, as opposed to having dreams of arenas. It makes the band’s signing with a major quite the head scratcher in the first place, and doesn’t likely end with the band being disappointed at their release from the label.

All things considered, it was probably still an good career move to capitalize on the popularity of the Seattle / Aberdeen music scene, likely gaining a few new fans and a few extra dollars from the deal. Feel free to tweet me (@JohanssonShreds) if this period of years qualifies as a “sell out” move, weighing on material vs. belief systems. Sure, the band kept up their no frills experimental nature, but that was more on the side releases, and much less notable on the major label efforts.

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#866: What is Testament’s shortest studio album title?

Q #1,861: Testament recently titled their newest album ‘The Brotherhood Of The Snake.’ What’s their shortest studio album title?

A.

Testament’s sixth studio album ‘Low’ was anything but a low moment in the band’s extensive career. In fact, ‘Low’ would begin what would be an amazingly epic cycle of members, that most bands would fire themselves to have in their own project. ‘Low’ was the first Testament record to not feature founding guitar legend Alex Skolnick, and drummer Louie Clemente. Clemente (seemingly already on his way out) had split drum duties on the band’s previous release, ‘Return to Apocalyptic City,’ with Paul Bostaph (Exodus, Forbidden, Slayer) handling the rest.

Replacing Skolnick and Clemente on ‘Low’ were guitarist James Murphy (Death, Obituary) and drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie). Murphy would appear also appear on ‘Live at the Fillmore,’ and ‘The Gathering,’ while Tempesta would appear years later on ‘First Strike Still Deadly,’ and ‘Live in London.’ For James Murphy, he would not appear on the album between ‘Fillmore’ and ‘Gathering,’ entitled “Demonic.” This album featured Gene Hoglan behind the drum kit, and basically only featured Testament founder Eric Peterson on all guitar duties. I had a conversation about this album with Mr. Hoglan (who is currently playing with Testament), and if my hazy memory serves me right, ‘Demonic’ was initially supposed to be a side project under the moniker ‘Dog Faced Gods’ which was a track off of – you guessed it – ‘Low.’

Former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo would sit behind the kit on ‘The Gathering,’ with bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Sadus) in the fold with James Murphy back on lead guitar duties. Lombardo would not continue on with the band after recording the album. After the brief stint of Dave Lombardo, we see the return of John Tempesta to take on the re-recordings and updated takes on classic Testament songs for ‘First Strike Still Deadly,’ with Alex Skolnick returning to the band. DiGiorgio would leave the band, but has since returned to complete the lineup with Skolnick and Hoglan. Why is it that I can keep all of this info straight in my head, but I can’t remember where I parked the car?

‘Low’ was produced by GGGarth Richardson (extra G’s on account of his stutter), who has engineered bands including The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nickelback, Motley Crue, Atreyu, and has produced bands such as Rage Against the Machine, Mudvayne, and The Melvins. Also appearing in the liner notes on ‘Low’ is a man by the name of Del James. James received composer and vocal credits on the record, and would go on to further collaborate with the band on ‘The Gathering,’ and 2012’s ‘Dark Roots of Earth.’ Del James is probably most (un)known for his behind the scenes work with Guns ‘N Roses. Not only was James involved with the creation of the iconic video for ‘November Rain,’ he also has credits on both of GnR’s Grammy nominated ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums.

Despite its mixed reception by critics at the time, and the subsequent revolving doors of membership, ‘Low’ is where Testament began their journey to the huge updated sound that currently keeps the band as one of the top groups of the modern thrash era.

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