Released in 1993 by Californian stoner rock pioneers Kyuss, this album is a groundbreaking piece of heavy music. It weaves different aspects of heavy metal, rock and blues together into a new, dirty kind of fusion that has so far stood the test of time. Josh Homme was the brains and soul of this band and he went on to found the much more pop-oriented and popular Queens of the Stone Age, and was joined in that band by the bassist from this album, Nick Oliveri.
The music itself is very heavy and very rhythmic, with the rhythm section of excellent drummer Brant Bjork and bassist Oliveri being the most apparent and perhaps most important aspect of "the sound", as the majority of the album chugs along at a medium/fast pace with groovy bass being driven by pounding drums. Over this we have the relentlessly-awesome downtuned riffs and weaving lead of guitarist Josh Homme, who is the master of this sort of thing, switching between melodious twiddling and heavy rhythmic riffs with ease. There's not very much in the way of vocals on a lot of the songs, with a fair few instrumental tracks and we sometimes go for some minutes with not even a "yeah", but when there is we have the treat of John Garcia's unique, laidback, soft vocals sliding about just over the music, like he's singing just behind your ear. His lyrics are often impenetrably weird, which is fitting.
Despite the fact that you need to listen to this album all the way through and take it as a whole, I'll try and take you through it track by track.
The album opens with a hum of a gentle swelling of a feedback tone, that builds into a the inevitable break and chugging riffage of a song called Thumb that is maintained pretty much throughout the rest of the album from then on. It's a good opener, if unremarkable.
Next is Green Machine, which sounds like a better-produced outtake from Kyuss' poor first album, or a typical mid-era Metallica song. Great riff though.
Next, Molten Universe, which lulls you in with a gentle intro before launching into a teeth-shatteringly heavy, slow groove and building to a faster-paced, thrashing metal groove. Great song.
Next, 50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up) feels chirpy and light in comparison and lifts the album, this song goes through movements rather than verse/chorus, getting pretty heavy again at times.
Following this, we have Thong Song, which you'll either love or hate, most probably hate, due to the harsh vocals and stuttery stop/start first half of the song before it breaks. It feels like a comedy interlude ("my hair is... real loooong! No brains... all brawwwwwn" etc) and either ruins or helpfully breaks up the groove of the album so far, depending on your view. When it finally breaks it is undeniably awesome though.
Next is Apothecaries Weight, which is really chilled out (relatively) and feels extremely "Hey, I'm stoned and I'm Californian". But in a good way. It's an instrumental and has a heavy chorus and gets progressively heavier and faster.
Caterpillar March is next and it's another groovy instrumental. There's a pattern emerging here.
Freedom Run is the standout track on the album and one of their more famous songs overall. The intro is very, very trippy, even when sober and it breaks into a groovy bassline that will rumble your speakers (having your stereo bass setting at 11 is crucial for Kyuss) and the excellent, catchy guitars will have most people's head nodding, despite themselves. Try to resist the air guitar, if you can. Garcia's vocals are really good on this song, almost at his best, as on the next album, Welcome to Sky Valley. Fantastic song.
While it's not the case that it's all downhill from here, that was probably the highlight of the album for me. However, the next track is called 800 and the drums are absolutely incredible, definitely very tribal, like a simpler Danny Carey from Tool. This track is essentially nothing but the intro for the following song Writhe, which is extremely heavy and cool, with trippy vocals and lead.
Capsized is a short flamenco influenced light guitar interlude.
Allen's Wrench is back to more of the same, and not of the highest quality but does the job. You may have a headache by this point, if not, wait for the next track.
Mondo Generator is written by the talentless goon Nick Oliveri (bass) and it's really horrible. The vocals, by Oliveri are massively distorted and like screams. It's very much the darkest point of the album, and it goes on and on, with a circular riff going round and round. It's awesome, with one riff particularly good.
It's a shame to end it like that but that's how it ends. Other than a 3-second track called Yeah, which consists of nothing more than what is obviously a studio outtake of John Garcia saying "yeah". It's like the full stop at the end of a novel.
So there you have it. A very, very good album that I'm still listening to after 15 years. If you like heavy music, buy it on the cheap and you (probably) won't be disappointed.
If you only buy one Kyuss album, though, make it Welcome to Sky Valley.
It's with their third album that stoner rock pioneers Kyuss really hit their stride as well as the rock mainstream, letting forth a subtly powerful barrage of slow, warm and fuzzy instrumentation beneath John Garcia's irresistible melodic singing. These songs are still heavily based in the blues rock tradition, but move beyond traditional doom rock towards something more emotive, compelling and bizarrely reminiscent of a drive down a desert road in the Southern United States, picking up hookers and sleeping in seedy motels.
The band are masters of tempo, churning out predominantly slow riffs and rhythms that accelerate to great effect on occasion, particularly at the escalating finale of 'Thumb' and the shorter and faster 'Caterpillar March.' Some songs favour an entirely stoned aesthetic such as the slow and fuzzy 'Molten Universe' and the odd 'Thong Song,' while the band never forgets its blues origins with guitar licks in 'Apothecaries' Weight' and others. The tracklist is bulked out a little misleadingly by frequent short interludes ranging from several seconds to a couple of minutes, but even these serve to bridge the songs in a more coherent fashion.
2. Green Machine
3. Molten Universe
4. 50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)
5. Thong Song
6. Apothecaries' Weight
7. Caterpillar March
8. Freedom Run
12. Allen's Wrench
13. Mondo Generator
With this, their second album, the American band Kyuss pretty much set the standard for what was to be called "stoner rock", basically it's grunge taken even a step further, with the usual tuned down guitars and deep throated vocalists, mixed with a rythym section that destroy everything in its path. IT'S LOUD DAD!!!!!! Kyuss took the grunge sound even more down a heavy road when guitarist Josh Homme played his six string through a 400 watt bass amp, creating a deep dense guitar sound that characterises this lump of 1992 dense hard rock called "Blues For The Red Sun".
A lot of this album sounds very much like Metallica around the time of their "Black" album, with a fierce drum beat from Brant Bjork driving it along, John Garcia screams into the mike on pretty much the same tone as James Hetfield, and the 13 tracks on this collection are structured light / heavy in a similar kind of style to "Ride The Lightning" or "In God We Trust Inc". That's not to say it is just riffing and noise for the sake of it, listen carefully and you can hear delicate interplay in tracks like 50 Million Year Universe and the pummeling-yet-thoughtful Mondo Generator, with its vocoder singing over scat guitar..
A track by track analysis is pretty useless really, the songs are hard, heavy, brutal-but-intelligent guitar driven moshes with extremely powerful vocals. The bass and drums give me the feeling they can play for hours without stopping and this is the kind of music that you get the chaps together, light up a fat one and sit there nodding your head to. Well they don't call it stoner rock for nothing.
Homme and Oliveri did of course go on to play with Queens Of The Stone Age and helped batter down the door for a generation of very loud US rock bands to take centre stage in the mid 90's.
Though it's not really my preferred kind of music (I like rock a little more melodic and trebly) this is still pretty impressive to listen to now and again, when the missus is out of course. This should be compulsory listening for any stroppy 15 year old rock fan, as they can gain revenge on their parents by locking themselves in the bedroom and pumping it up.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Green Machine
3 Molten Universe
4 Fifty Million Year Trip (Downside Up)
5 Thong Song
6 Apothecarie's Weight
7 Caterpillar March
8 Freedom Run
12 Allen's Wrench
13 Mondo Generation