Director Bob Hannam’s film, The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale is everything you could ever want to know about the seminal band’s journey across their 30+ year career. If you’re not familiar with the Melvins, this film is practically a graduate level course that shows that the band is much more than just the progenitors of grunge, in fact the word grunge is never uttered once during the two-hour film. There’s good reason for that, the Melvins may have had a profound influence on Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, but they never embraced the term. In fact, the Melvins and their music far transcends the label utilized by 1990’s record label marketing teams.
You don’t have to take my word for it, there’s a veritable who’s-who of musicians who attest to the influence and legacy of the band. Jello Biafra, Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Corey Taylor (Slipknot), David Yow (The Jesus Lizard), Mike Patton (Faith No More), Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, and Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden), Gene Simmons, J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) are only a handful of folks on hand to testify to the bands greatness. Further, as the film doesn’t tie the band to “grunge,” likewise it doesn’t paint the band as solely part of the Seattle scene, even if Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd considers the band responsible for solidifying it in the first place.
The film mostly traces the bands history chronologically, starting with their formation, band members past and present, early gigs, and early albums. There’s a slight detour to discuss the bands business philosophy and releases with Amphetamine Reptile, but it quickly returns to cover the bands major label years on Atlantic and proceeds with a run down of nearly everyone they’ve collaborated with; like the guys in Big Business, Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers, Lustmord, and Jello Biafra. And Mike Patton runs down how Buzz’s collaboration with Fantomas eventually led to their long-term relationship with his Ipecac label –who have released 13 Melvins albums since 1999.
The film does of fine job of showing a band who has never been content with repeating themselves. Collaborating with stand-up bassist Trevor Dunn, the Melvins took a risk with their well known sound as they explored more jazzy territory and later challenged themselves again by adding a second drummer when they collaborated with the Big Business guys on four albums. All this a testament to the band who has remained committed to their artistic vision, commercial appeal be damned. Indeed, Buzz Osborne opens the film with “I know millions of people will not like what I do.”
Like the bands career, the film is primarily anchored by Buzz and drummer Dale Crover, but most previous band members are included to tell their story as well (save Lori Black and Joe Preston). As lineups and labels changed over the years, Buzz and Dale have been constant and remain the unflagging driving force that have kept the band going over three decades.
The Colossus of Destiny is highly recommended to the steadfast Melvins fanbase, but should also be of interest to anyone interested in modern music history. There’s so much within these two hours that it’s hard to summarize for a film review. But, that’s exactly why you should see it. The Melvins influence and legacy is complex, sometimes strange, and certainly more unique than most of their peers.
– J. Kevin Lynch