Sunday, May 26, 2024

RAMzine Classic: Kyuss – Welcome To Sky Valley

With current global events seeing most of humanity confined to our homes, we have a lot of time on our hands, while the circumstances we are all facing at the time of writing are far from ideal and can be downright scary, for millions of people music will be helping ease the pressure of this unprecedented struggle.

That’s exactly why the team at RAMzine have been digging through our records and dusting off albums that we feel should be considered classics on a wide scale, my first pick is Welcome To Sky Valley by pioneering desert dwellers, Kyuss.

Forming in Plam Desert, California in 1987, the four-piece which included a certain Josh Homme, better know for fronting Queens of the Stone Age nowadays, back then began moulding the sound of the sun-baked desert they inhabited, blending it effortlessly with blues-infused, distorted and fuzzed-out alternative rock. The end result was a seminal sound that helped launch a genre and what would eventually evolve from their efforts was modern Stoner Rock.

Kyuss first produced Wretch in 1991 offering an alternative the growing grunge movement sweeping America and followed up with Blues For The Red Sun, an album that is widely considered a classic or at the very least a hugely influential album, often labelled as the definitive Kyuss record but it’s the third release I want to focus on here.

Often overshadowed by its predecessor Welcome To Sky Valley should, to my mind, stand as an equal. It’s in many ways a full extension to Blues For The Red Sun building on the sound and the niche carved out on that record and exploring it deeper. While the seeds for a fully-fledged stoner metal/rock genre were laid with the first two releases, I feel it was on Sky Valley that Kyuss really embraced what they had helped birth. The gloves were now off and confidence was high in their craft, the end result is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time, even if it’s not well known on a more mainstream level, not enjoying the success of albums such as Metallica’s Black Album, Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast or Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, all of which are well known outside of the metal community and are recognised by music fans from all backgrounds.

From the opening riffs and galloping pace of ‘Gardenia’, it’s clear to see how Kyuss influenced the likes of Orange Goblin and Red Fang who would follow years later. There isn’t a dull moment or low point on the entire record and this includes ‘Whitewater/Lick Doo’ which may not have aged too well but when considered in relation to the whole piece of work, have their own place. ‘100 Degrees’ and ‘Space Cadet’ are stand out favourites among fans and for good reasons too, being quintessential examples of the genre but almost all aspects of the sub-genre are on display here, from the aforementioned, full-throttle gallops, scorching blues licks to psyched out, drawn-out sections, this is an all-encompassing record and a near-perfect introduction to the anyone looking to explore Stoner Rock and Metal.

There are other reasons that Sky Valley shines as a classic for me, it’s the first Kyuss record to feature bass master Scott Reeder, who replaced Nick Oliveri in 92. It was also the last to feature work from founding member Brant Bjork (who left and founded El Camino Records and later joined Fu Manchu).

Track nine, ‘N.O.’ was originally recorded by an outfit known as Across The River, a band once fronted by Mario Lalli (Yawning Man) that also named Reeder amongst its ranks at one point. After Reeder joined Kyus, it was suggested by Brant Bjork that they lay down ‘N.O.’ on the album as a tribute to their former band.

This all goes to demonstrate that Sky Valley isn’t just a record produced by a band finding its foothold and staking claim to their little piece of music history, this was all achieved amongst a lineup change and a seamless one at that. Listening to Blues For The Red Sun and Welcome To Sky Valley back to back it’s nigh on impossible to notice the difference, such is the band’s fortitude.

As mentioned earlier, Sky Valley is as good an introduction as you can have to the stoner rock/metal genre so why not give it a whirl and let the fuzzed-out tones of Homme and co take you on a desert spanning trip, while you’re at it give Blues For The Red Sun a listen too, maybe even back to back in the order they were released? You won’t regret it.

Jay Taylor-Brown
Jay Taylor-Brown
Assistant Editor of RAMzine - Raised on Motown and Rock, now with a deep love for all things metal and heavy rock. Veteran gig goer, favorite bands include Slayer, Mastodon, Dopelord & Power Trip among many others. Explorer of subgenres, collector of whiskey.

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