Peyote in the Palms: A Bad History of Kyuss

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Thread: Peyote in the Palms: A Bad History of Kyuss

  1. #1

    Post Peyote in the Palms: A Bad History of Kyuss

    All information and images come from Wikipedia, Google, and liner notes. Any errata are entirely mine.

    In the desert, desolation and freedom reign in equal measure. Inhospitable, pitiless, and bereft of normal human life, wanderers nevertheless trudge among the valleys and hoodoos in search of tranquility and truth. Sometimes they bring their friends and have loud parties with rock & roll and copious hallucinogenic drugs!

    Such was the music scene in the outback of Palm Desert, California in the early 1990s. From that scene emerged a clique of psychedelic rock groups who often tailored their music for intoxicated minds, such as jamming or experimenting for long periods and using extended hypnotic segments. Nowadays, these groups and their imitators are called stoner rock.

    Born of this psychoactivity was a band who would become legend. Welcome to…

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    Starting in 1987 as a jam band called Katzenjammer the group soon changed their name to the Sons of Kyuss, after the D & D monster. In 1990 their eponymous EP was released and, after a line-up change, they abbreviated to Kyuss.

    Kyuss’ albums feature a highly distinctive take on rock inspired by metal, prog, and punk music (Homme: “I loved Black Flag’s Jealous Again and Damaged, but it was My War that really summarized Kyuss’ approach to punk.”) including but not limited to:

    “sludgy, down-tuned guitars (often played through a bass amp for maximum, earth-shaking intensity), spacey jams, galloping thrash metal rhythms, and organic drums” (AllMusic)

    Kyuss were marginally successful commercially, but their artistic reach is monumental. They inspire young bands to this day and most of their former members would go on to have long and similarly influential careers. Most obvious is Homme who would head up Queens of the Stone Age. Olivieri is a highly prolific artist who played on Queens’ first two albums and has been in a slew of bands such as Dwarves, Mondo Generator, Uncontrollable. He also plays with a pile of friend’s bands while they tour. Other acts associated with Kyuss alumni are Fu Manchu, Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano, The Obsessed, Fireball Ministry, and the list goes on.

    1987–1989 As Katzenjammer
    • John Garcia – lead vocals
    • Josh Homme – lead guitar, backing vocals
    • Nick Oliveri – rhythm guitar
    • Chris Cockrell – bass
    • Brant Bjork – drums, percussion

    1989–1991 As Sons of Kyuss
    • John Garcia – lead vocals
    • Josh Homme – guitars, backing vocals
    • Chris Cockrell – bass
    • Brant Bjork – drums, percussion

    1991–1992 As Kyuss
    • John Garcia – lead vocals
    • Josh Homme – guitars
    • Nick Oliveri – bass
    • Brant Bjork – drums, percussion

    • John Garcia – lead vocals
    • Josh Homme – guitars
    • Scott Reeder – bass
    • Brant Bjork – drums, percussion

    • John Garcia – lead vocals
    • Josh Homme – guitars
    • Scott Reeder – bass
    • Alfredo Hernández – drums, percussion

    Sons of Kyuss (1990)
    Wretch (1991)
    Blues for the Red Sun (1992)
    Welcome to Sky Valley (1994)
    …And the Circus Leaves Town (1995)
    Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age (1997)

    In researching, I came across this compilation of demos from 1990. Under warbling of the rough recording, the nascent sound that will carry through the years (and some of the songs that would appear later in the discography) are on display.

    Can I handle two simultaneous threads? Watch me crash and burn while I bang out the first installment.

  2. #2
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    Sons of Kyuss
    (EP) ~ 1990

    John Garcia ~ Vocals
    Josh Homme ~ Guitar
    Chris Cockrell ~ Bass
    Brant Bjork ~ Drums

    Only 500 copies of this EP were ever pressed to vinyl as it was an independent recording. It’s rough and the tell-tale crackle is all over this piece. Riffs, howling vocals, squealing solos and blasting drums are all fighting for attention – It’s an impressive start and doesn’t suffer much, if at all, from its humble technological constraints.

    Deadly Kiss
    The notes are almost invisible beneath the fuzz clouding the opening guitar riff. After a quick spacey intro the gears shift with the drums booming in and we march forward to a little breakdown before the Garcia’s loud vocals thrust in. Feels a little thrash metal and I love the end to each bridge:

    “Dig your grave for two.”

    The heavy metal influences are rampant here including lyrical content:

    “Drowning in your loneliness
    Want to bring me down with you
    No one buys your innocence
    Gonna' break your walls in two”

    Bad-ass song and an ambitious 5 minutes long to boot.

    Window of Souls
    Another march. The track is similar to the last but Kyuss have hit upon a sound that I find intuitively enjoyable, so more of the same is still good in my books. I don’t think this song made it into future albums, which is just as well. This is solid, but not a standout.

    I’ve never been much into the lyrics of Kyuss’ songs and this song suggests that’s for the best.

    Bass and drum intro and some feedbacking guitar. Not crazy about this one, but its serviceable, though very similar to other better tracks.

    Isolation Desolation
    Nice haunting acoustic guitar and some scratchy vocals start things off before taking a right turn into more metal. I like the tribal “Whoo” backing vocal. After things go electric the acoustic still plunks in behind and it’s a lovely pairing.

    Love Has Passed Me By
    By this point its clear that the riffs are not especially memorable. For a band inspired by Black Sabbath and who is clearly channeling them, I’m missing that special sauce (Such as Iommi on Vol. 4) that makes a group shine. I enjoy the song nonetheless. Garcia’s odd delivery is fun to sing along to.

    Black Widow
    More of the same.

    Happy Birthday
    Now this one sounds like a Sabbath B-side – I dig it! Guitar is much more distinctive here with a barreling solo that puts this one a cut above the rest. Garcia’s singing is at its silliest and I love it.

    A biker anthem that kicks you in the nads. I love the time change after each verse, its satisfying as hell. And in case the pronunciation of their name confounds you, there’s a sexy lady voice to set you straight. Cleaned up, this could be a radio hit.

    At about thirty minutes this is a decently sized EP. It’s a consistent album and that’s not entirely a good thing. From front to back the sound is predictable based off the first track, with the final two tracks being the easy highlights. The future greatness of Kyuss oozes from every second of this historical slice.

    This was a nice palette cleanser after Wilcox's My Eyes... Can I handle two simultaneous threads? Watch me crash and burn while I bang out the second installment.
    Last edited by BadHouses; November 26th, 2019 at 04:14 AM.

  3. #3
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    Wretch ~ 1991

    John Garcia – vocals, producer
    Josh Homme – guitar, producer
    Brant Bjork – drums, producer
    Nick Oliveri – bass guitar on all except Cockrell tracks, producer
    Chris Cockrell – bass guitar on "Black Widow" and "Deadly Kiss," producer

    Slight delay on this one – I was waiting on a physical copy for listening!

    As Sons of Kyuss, these guys would be limited to excited, but local exposure. After shortening the name and signing on to independent Dali Records for a full-length LP, Kyuss would continue to be overlooked. The opening of the album explains that fact immediately: The recording and production of Kyuss’ music would remain rough for this first official entry. Vocals and instruments appear to be placed more appropriately in the mix, but with a lacking lower end and debatable improvement in sound quality, this record is still a mere hint at Kyuss’ potential.

    If you were to classify this as “biker metal” I couldn’t argue with you. It’s intense and it’s fast and you don’t want to put this on your stereo if staying under the speed limit is your goal. Along with that teenaged speed-demon instrumentation is equally teenaged lyricism. You’ll see what I mean. These songs were written by hormonal kids trying to impress their friends (and the merciless concert goers in the desert) and diving into this track list with that attitude is a lot of fun.

    (Beginning Of What’s About To Happen) HWY 74
    If this album were a film, it would start with a cold cut to a vehicle approaching before immediately roaring past and disappearing into a rippling desert road:

    “In the middle of the Highway
    As you ride down the road
    Just get that feeling
    It's all so black and bald
    And then there's my face
    When you're drivin' the desert sand
    Well open my hand
    Well open up the land”

    The whole song is wide open throttle. Guitar mimics the sound of a screaming tires, the bass and the drums and relentless. Homme’s angular playing is ideal for the song, and its seems like the whole band are playing with a huge boost to their ability and confidence.

    Love Has Passed Me By
    A re-recorded version of the track from the EP. I love singing along with Garcia on this one because his pronunciation of “by,” “thorn” is ludicrous. Features the original bassist, Chris Cockrell.

    Son of a Bitch
    Awesome slow riff to start this one off with yet more sing-able lyrics:

    “Goddamn son of a bitch
    Goddamn son of a bitch
    Goddamn son of a bitch
    Goddamn son of a bitch
    Goddamn son of a bitch”

    We also get that adolescence I mentioned:

    “You have long legs, long hair
    Big tits, you got a bit ass
    Your parts will never last”

    Kyuss just swaggers on this one, in no hurry at all until the last stanza fires off quickly, which makes the outro return to slow a beast of a progression. Love it.

    Black Widow
    From the EP. Garcia swears good and Homme’s got a nice groovy solo.

    From the EP. As I said, cleaned up this could be a radio hit – Too bad it wasn’t! We get some wicked backing vocals that are a nice addition.

    Deadly Kiss
    From the EP and the other track to feature Chris Cockrell. Chris would be one of the producers for the album as well.

    The Law
    A departure from the deep groves, we get a sharp face-melting riff from Homme that I can’t get enough of. The intro ends and the time changes for a heavy middle section where Garcia finally joins the rest of the boys. This one is written my Homme and the new bassist, Nick Oliveri. The intro riff is revisited in a lower register for a wonderful change of scenery. In listening to this track I think of the upcoming albums which will showcase a more prog-like sensibility to crafting songs: Long compositions with time changes, lots of different guitar tones, and in no rush to conclude.

    Formerly Isolation Desolation on the EP. Still awesome, but they cut the acoustic element and the “Whoo” vocal which annoys me. It fits the sound better, but I liked it as a bit of spice.

    I’m Not
    Solid, but the most memorable track. Kyuss can always create songs that are groovy so they’re enjoyable even if you don’t think much of them.

    Big Bikes
    “Cause I want some pussy
    From a bad bitch
    Well on a big bike, yeah”

    Another biker anthem. Fan-fucking-tastic. Shake some windows while you cruise with this on eleven.

    Stage III
    My favourite track of the album is the four minute closer. If the rest of this album is biker metal, this is the point at which that bike sprouts a solid-fuel rocket and flies off into the next solar system. This riff is murderous, and the song has a long progression of intensity. I could listen on repeat forever. Somebody at the mixer was playing with the sliders on this one I think because there’s an odd effect that I can’t even describe, except to say it sounds like the rocket is crossing the sound barrier and exiting the atmosphere. You couldn’t write a better ending.

    This album is so damn hard. Homme is impressive throughout and Garcia is always a riot. Drums are blasting louder than ever, though I find the bass a big neglected in the mix (except on“Stage III”). The album as a whole can be just on the far side of same-y, but its intensity and balls to the wall attitude is wonderful.

    Can I handle two simultaneous threads? Watch me crash and burn while I bang out the third installment.


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