It’s been a full 18 years since Stoner Witch was released as the second of three albums the Melvins would put out through Atlantic Records, and I still feel like there’s just no keeping up with it. The quick turns in “Sweet Willy Rollbar,” the immediate throwoff of “Skweetis,” the before-it-was-cool Morricone whistles of “Roadbull,” the Side Two weirdness of “Shevil,” and “Lividity.” It’s probably not the best album from this era of the band — I’d give that title to 1993′s Houdini — but Stoner Witch is one of those records that has a language all its own, an album that you can walk up to someone, go, “Dude, Stoner Witch!” and know immediately by their reaction if you’ve got a new friend.
Listening to Stoner Witch on tape — similar I suppose to listening to it on vinyl, but cheaper and boxier — it’s easy to lose track of the parts, so that as you come around to the slow progression and creepy whispers of “At the Stake” at the end of Side One, it’s from a mash of early ’90s avant heavy rock. The tape, which is clear — awesome — was worth the five bucks I paid before I even put it on, and though I’ve owned Stoner Witch on CD for many years now, the inherent compression of the format makes a big difference in the actual listening experience, as the high and low ends seem pushed together as King Buzzo‘s vocals, zit-like, are forced to the surface of the songs.
I guess this is “commercial” Melvins as much as something like that ever existed, but let’s face it, without the push Atlantic gave them and the work they did supporting Houdini, Stoner Witch and 1996′s Stag, they wouldn’t be the band they are today, touring 50 states with a new live record out what seems like every six weeks or so. That’s not to say the Melvins weren’t working on their own terms at all times — to think that the abrasive noise at the start of “Magic Pig Detective” came out on a major label is fucking astounding — but these full-lengths, along with others along the way in their massive discography and 30-year tenure, helped define the band they’d become. Whichever you pick as your favorite, and whichever format your hear it on, Stoner Witch is a classic.
And should you happen to stumble into the tape as I did, hopefully you also enjoy getting lost in it all over again. If the future’s more your taste, here’s this: