“You know the places that Manson said if he ever got out of prison he would move to? That’s Desert Hot Springs. It’s very much like getting caught in a David Lynch movie.” – Josh Homme on the surroundings that shaped Kyuss’ music.
Kyuss’ self-titled and third album (often referred to as ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’ due to the sign presented on the cover) defines what came to be known as desert rock. The record is strangely atmospheric; inducing thoughts of beer fuelled jams in the blistering desert sun, driving cross-country in fast American cars and partying until dawn in the middle of the Southern Californian desert thanks to a sound which lends itself to overdriven riffs and frequent delvings into psychedelia. Kyuss perfectly captured their live sound and persona in this record, amounting to music that replicates their wild generator powered shows in the remote canyons of the Palm Springs wilderness.
The compact disc of ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’ was originally issued with its “ten songs” contained in only three tracks, thus requiring listening to as to as a full piece, the liner notes even instruct to “listen without distraction“. The album is split into suites (simply titled ‘Movement I’, ‘Movement II’ and ‘Movement III’); the first features in-your-face stoner metal, the second is a subtler, highly psychedelic affair (bar the aggressive ‘100°’) whilst the third combines the defining characteristics of the former movements into blissful lysergic heaviness. Josh Homme’s guitar work is the defining feature of Kyuss; tuned incredibly low and played through bass amps, the riffs lucidly shift from crunchy chord to smooth riffs with cleverly positioned, hypnotising solos. Meanwhile, the clattering drums and rumbling bass provide the rhythmical backbone whilst John Garcia’s clean yet incredibly powerful vocals manage to soar over the dense instrumentation. Crafted by the fuzz-steeped riffing of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath and the weighty crunch of the Melvins and ‘My War’-era Black Flag, the influences of Kyuss amounts to a sound simultaneously retro and inventively forward thinking.
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‘Welcome to Sky Valley’ builds upon the template the group established on the previous album ‘Blues for the Red Sun’ with increased ambition. A greater use of dynamics are utilised, notably heard on the hushed vocals of ‘Demon Cleaner’ and the celestial melodies fashioned in ‘Space Cadet’ which become the centre-piece for the album, with Kyuss’ newfound use of acoustic guitar and bass arrangements. The instrumental track ‘Asteroid’ flirts with rising tempos and juxtaposing temperaments of heavy riffing and desolate ambience whilst blistering psychedelic suggestive guitar work features in the ingeniously paced ‘Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop’ and the albums closer ‘Whitewater’. There is also no shortage of full-throttle aggression, ‘100°’ and ‘Conan Troutman’ are cuts indicative of Kyuss’ hardcore punk influences which were also reflected in their illicit DIY desert concerts.
Shortly after the release of ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’, Kyuss began to dissolve slowly and within three months, the band called it quits. Brant Bjork left the group due to rising band tensions and an aversion for touring and adding insult to injury, their following album ‘…And the Circus Leaves Town’ failed commercially and received average reviews. Although the band reformed as Kyuss Lives!, Homme abstained from the reunion and later sued for copyright infringement, stemming from his desire to retain a fitting legacy for Kyuss*. Despite this, the legacy the cult band left in their wake is unparalleled in their genre (closely rivalled by their peers in Sleep whose members established Om and High On Fire): Josh Homme gained worldwide popularity with Queens of the Stone Age thanks to their blend of stoner rock with pop and alt-rock sensibility, John Garcia has fronted many important stoner rock groups including Unida, Hermano and Slo Burn, Brant Bjork has enjoyed a successful solo career in addition to playing in Fu Manchu whilst Scott Reeder performs with Goatsnake and The Obsessed and produced for high profile acts such as Orange Goblin and Sun O))). The fact is, Kyuss are a collective who took the alternative and heavy metal genres by storm, enabling the expansion of the status and horizons of stoner/desert rock and worked tirelessly to put Palm Desert on the map.
*Josh Homme stated he does not want to be part of any Kyuss reunions in an interview from Blabbermouth in 2007 (http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/queens-of-the-stone-age-s-josh-homme-rules-out-kyuss-reunion/)