The Melvins are on the brink of crossing over. Not to mass appeal -- all the riches of the Atlantic Records empire couldn't bring that about -- but from a merely seminal outfit to a full-fledged cult icon.

The Melvins earned national notoriety, of a sort, when their ex-roadie won fame as front man for a certain band called Nirvana. (Kurt Cobain frequently cited the group as one of the primary influences on his budding grunge aesthetic.) At the time, the Melvins donned KISS makeup and released a series of "solo" records, rather than a more traditional group release, long before the KISS revival was under way, and as a live unit, it has welcomed special guests as diverse as Tool's Adam Jones and '70s teen icon Leif Garrett into its fold.

All of this from an outfit that has spent at least as much time generating quasi-artistic noise as "serious" music. This is no less true in a live setting. The Melvins have been known to while away an hour or so emitting an ungodly howl of sounds before starting the set proper. But when the band decides to rock, it can do so with a low-slung power matched by few. The band's low-fi malice gives rise to an inescapable compulsion to scream loud and drink heavily.

The band's stop in Houston is the fifth U.S. date in support of its "current" Electroretard release. The CD is a reissue of the group's Interstellar Overdrive ten-inch, with reworkings of some older songs and a cover of the Wipers' "Youth of America" affixed. Touring a record like this should give the Melvins the perfect opportunity to do what they do best, which is whatever the hell they want. There's no new material to plug and no corporate dance to perform -- and therefore no reason whatsoever not to get, as they put it, "way out in the tall weeds." But then again, maybe a heavy-metal concert will break out. With the Melvins, you never know.

Either way, the debate rages whether the Melvins are over the hill or becoming cool again. One thing is certain: They don't give a damn. Check them out, and neither will you.

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Chris Smith