Ranked: Kyuss

Forged in the hot sun of Palm Desert, California, Kyuss were largely responsible for laying the foundations of desert/stoner rock. Throughout their eight-year lifespan, the band released four studio albums. Their now-prolific status was not gained straightaway, as their debut record was sonically some distance away from their subsequent records.

It was clear, however, that by the time their sophomore album dropped, they were on-course for becoming known as the true pioneers of desert rock. Only vocalist John Garcia and guitarist Josh Homme saw through the entire lifespan of Kyuss, while multiple bassists and drummers took part at some stage of the journey. So, without further ado, here is my ranking of their studio albums.

 

 

[4] Wretch (1991)

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Kyuss’ debut record was just a taste of things to come. It’s the band’s weakest album; serving as an aperitif to the future filet mignon. It practised an alternative metal and hardcore punk sound, in which the brutal opener ‘Hwy 74’ exemplifies. The album suffers from amateurish production and fails to propel the fine riff-craft. Moreover, one-dimensional songwriting leaves multiple tracks feeling like filler. However, there are some gems hidden amongst the desert dirt. Wretch isn’t a great record, but it needed to exist for the band to find their stride in future work.

Essential tracks: Hwy 74 // Son of a Bitch // Stage III

 

 

[3] Blues for the Red Sun (1992)

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The band’s follow-up to Wretch was immediately a significant improvement. Kyuss expanded their songwriting in all aspects and gave birth to a sound that became very influential to modern rock music. Josh Homme’s technique of running his guitars through bass amplifiers aided the creation of thick and sludgy tones. His use of wah pedals also added a fresh layer to the band’s sonic statement, and in turn forged ‘Apothecaries Weight’, one of Kyuss’ greatest instrumentals. Kyuss introduced cosmic exploration to their sound, which was further explored in their discography. To quote Martin Popoff, this album was an “uncompromising bassquake”.

Essential tracks: Thumb // 50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up) // Apothecaries’ Weight

 

 

[2] …And the Circus Leaves Town (1995)

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Kyuss’ final studio album released three months before the band’s breakup. The record features a simpler approach to songwriting, with many tracks built from single riff refrains and grooves. Within the tracklist, each track stands up on its own with a unique personality. From the groggy groove of ‘One Inch Man’ to the ethereal psychedelics of ‘Phototropic’, for sure one of the band’s greatest cuts. You can clearly see the stepping stones to Queens of the Stone Age within this record, as Homme builds each track upon a set of focused and driven riffs.

Essential tracks: One Inch Man // Phototropic // Size Queen // Spaceship Landing

 

[1] Welcome to Sky Valley (1994)

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The mother of all desert rock records. From the very opening chord in ‘Gardenia’, you know you’re in for one hell of a ride. Welcome to Sky Valley, Kyuss’ third studio album, is their magnum opus. Bassist Nick Oliveri was replaced by Scott Reeder, who was more of a melodic chap (see intro to ‘Whitewater’) and his tandem-play with Homme is what crafted so much memorability in the instrumentation. ‘Demon Cleaner’, perhaps the best song the band ever wrote, glides along with its fantastically toned licks and Brant Bjork’s erratic drums. Sky Valley is a record you can put on to soak in some desert atmospherics through its excellent instrumental compositions, and revolutionary attitudes.

Essential tracks: Gardenia // Asteroid // Demon Cleaner // Odyssey // Whitewater

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