June 30th, 1992, KYUSS released their second studio album, Blues For The Red Sun, on Dali Records. The album was a pioneering slab of molten stoner rock. But despite rave reviews from critics, it was anything but a roaring success on release. The influence of Kyuss, and this album, far outweighs any sales projections or chart position. To this day, an infinite number of bands who followed in their wake, trace their sound directly to four guys who blew out of the Californian desert ,who named themselves after an undead monster found in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game.
The Kyuss sound was heavy and trippy. Guitarist Josh Homme tuned down to a guttural roar and played through a wall of bass amps for maximum effect. Much like the generators they dragged into the desert for their legendary “Generator Parties”, bassist Nick Oliveri’s intensity and drive was enough to power a large city. Brant Bjork’s force behind the kit is the beating heart of Kyuss. His enormous groove, thumping attack and juggernaut energy is barely contained within the structures of each song. John Garcia’s voice roams on top of this gargantuan din. His upper register and engaging tone is perfectly suited to cut through thick, lava flow of riffs.
Kyuss took the blueprint set out by early Black Sabbath and infused it with the energy and vicious abandon of Black Flag, GBH and Bad Brains. Quickly they found their own sound within a heady mix of stoner and punk rock. Combined with blistering heat and arid dry desert sun, the only choice they had was the one they dreamed up. Josh Homme recalled: “That was the main thing in the desert. You had to sound like yourself, or else people would talk shit about you”.
Recorded in the fabled Sound City Studios in Van Nuys in early 1992. Producer and Masters Of Reality frontman Chris Goss was tapped up to capture the band’s raw energy. Recording began in early 1992. “We were just kids,” Nick Oliveri points out. “We were just out playing, having fun. Blues For The Red Sun was a really good time. Chris was awesome, man. He’s all about ‘vibe’, and his ideas are great.”
“It was at Sound City (in Van Nuys, California) in the big room,” Oliveri recalls. “I remember little moments that were like, ‘Wow, man’. Just hearing things coming back from the tape was new and exciting, ’cause I was so young. You don’t hear it that way when you’re playing, especially when you’re nineteen or twenty. I remember singing through a walkie-talkie mic going to a Big Muff pedal and this effects rack thing for Mondo Generator.”
The album opens with “Thumb” , its eerie drone note intro giving way to Josh Homme’s lone guitar. Soon the band crash in with an almighty, heavy groove. John Garcia proclaiming with sardonic menace “You don’t seem to understand the deal/I don’t give two shits on how you feel/You’re burned by my lighter/You’ve been burned by my lighter/And my lighter is held down by my thumb…”
“Green Machine” is a classic Kyuss song. The only single to be released from the album, its intent is clear from the start, it’s here to make the earth beneath your feet shudder. The video for “Green Machine” features bassist Scott Reeder instead of Nick Oliveri, who left the band shortly after the release of Blues for the Red Sun. Filmed in the California desert, which was the band’s natural environment. Its vast, arid landscapes and big sky expanse give some insight into the reasoning for the band’s epic scale. It feels as though the enormous, monolithic sound being produced by these desert rats is designed for one purpose, to try to fill the enormity of their surroundings with sound.
Kyuss always had a knack for a crushing instrumental, and “Molten Universe” is no exception. A funeral dirge that cascades into a double time, throbbing Levithan. “50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)” kicks off with savage intent. Brant Bjork’s soulful groove, propels Oliveri and Homme’s interplay to glorious heights. Flitting between half time grooves and full on, pedal down rock, with a beautifully spacey outro section, it’s a masterpiece of desert groove and ambience, rolled into a single song.
“Thong Song” should have been a single. It’s playful verses feature just Homme playing a quirky, catchy guitar line and Garcia intoning “My hair is, real long/No brains, all groin/No shoes, just thongs/I hate, slow songs..” When the band lay in on the chorus and outros, it’s a euphoric release as Garcia derides “Hooray for, hooray for you” on repeat.
Second instrumental “Apothecaries’ Weight” leads into the sweeping, urging swagger of “Caterpillar March.” another short instrumental. “Freedom Run” follows, its trippy, interstellar intro resembles tumbling through a kaleidoscopic acid trip, which gives way to a barbaric, low end groove from the band, who are in imperious form as they blaze through this glorious slab of rock.
“Writhe” is just that. A beautiful twisting, contortion of a song, John Garcia’s pitch perfect vocal delivery adds a gorgeous melancholia. The song is shot through with a resigned hopelessness as Garcia bemoans having to share space with the people who cross his path, “What a manly lookin’ crew/I don’t think I’ll tease my hair/I’d rather sit here teasing you/Cast your eyes, my snakes down on the floor/Out you go and in come one and hundred more/I seem to lost my cowboy boots..”
“Allen’s Wrench” and “Mondo Generator” close out the album, the former, an intense racing gallop, the latter a mid tempo workout with Oliveri roaring into a fuzzed out microphone. After “Mondo Generator” runs out of gas and comes to a pulsed out stop, we hear a single, spoken “Yeah” and the album is done.
The fabled “Brown Note” is a hypothetical infrasonic frequency capable of causing fecal incontinence by creating acoustic resonance in the human bowel. Which in short means, that theoretically, if a musical note is played loud enough, at a low enough frequency. Chances are, you’ll uncontrollable shit yourself on hearing it. The sheer weight and pummelling power of Kyuss certainly worried many a trouser leg in the early ’90s.
But behind the heft lay a truly beautiful heart. These songs are transformative and hypnotic, they’re graceful and sophisticated, they just also happen to be crushing and deadly. On the alternative rock landscape of the early ’90s, Kyuss were an outlier. They were embraced by all factions of the alt-rock and metal community as their own. Which is testament to the brilliance of Blues For The Red Sun.