KYUSS – Welcome To Sky Valley (1994)

June 28th, 1994, KYUSS released their third album, Welcome To Sky Valley through Elektra Records. With 1992’s Blues For The Red Sun, Kyuss forged a sound as dense as liquid tar. Equally crushing as it was expansive, theirs was the sound that couldn’t easily be pinned down. Containing elements of stoner rock, desert rock, Masters of Reality era Black Sabbath, My War era Black Flag and (the) Melvins glacial riffage, the band had filtered these influences into a unique, potent sound, all their own.

Blues For The Red Sun had put the Palm Desert quartet on the map, with fans and critics heaping the album with acclaim. Anticipation was high for 1994’s follow up, Welcome To Sky Valley. The band entered the studio in early 1993 to begin recording. Chris Goss, who had produced Blues For The Red Sun, was on board again. The band chose the legendary Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California to record.

Welcome To Sky Valley was initially slated for release in January of 1994. But in November of 1993 the band’s record label Chameleon Records abruptly shut down its business. Elektra Records picked the band up and scheduled the album for a March 1994 release but this date was delayed further. Eventually the album was released in late June of 1994.

Welcome to Sky Valley is the last album with founding drummer Brant Bjork sitting behind the kit, and the first with bassist Scott Reeder, who replaced Nick Oliveri shortly after Blues for the Red Sun was released in 1992. Guitarist Josh Homme and vocalist John Garcia rounded out the lineup.

Discussing the album in 2014, John Garcia said: “I remember that it was really Josh Homme’s baby. This was something I knew he was on a mission for. He had a really direct vision with this record and very specific with what he wanted from me. I give credit where credit is due. the last record where I got a chance to see Josh and Brant Bjork work together. Those two collectively as a creative team, they were something else. If they would have put aside their differences and just worked together… When it was great, I’d be looking from the outside like, ‘Holy fuck, just show me. Tell me where you want me to go and I’ll be there..”

The band wastes no time hitting their stride. Opening track “Gardenia.” is as heavy as a planet sized meteor. Josh Homme’s gargantuan, down tuned guitar eats up all around it, like a merciless black hole. Brant Bjork and Scott Reeder’s interplay is magic. The addition of Reeder’s incredible bass playing is immediately evident in the extended jam during the song’s breakdown.

Instrumental track “Asteroid” begins with a clean guitar, followed by the band pummelling the downbeat with a massive, jolting riff which descends into feedback that eventually gives way to the return of the intro riff, rinse and repeat. It’s truly crushing stuff and displays the band’s considerable skills as masters of dynamics. “Supa Scoopa And Mighty Scoop” kicks off with Homme and Garcia trading vocal and guitar licks. Bjork and Reeder join the fray, imbuing the track with an intense desert swing and colossal groove.

100° is a short, fast, powerful blast. Demanding your attention, Josh Homme’s wah drenched guitar intro, Brant Bjork’s ride heavy drum attack, and Scott Reeder’s in the pocket bass grooves run hard and deep. The midsection half time groove is a super satisfying pay off before burning out like a shooting star.

The acoustic beauty of “Space Cadet” is a perfect palate cleanser midway through the album. Like Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” if it was conceived around a campfire by a group of desert rats, during a particularly vivid acid trip. Its interweaving guitar passages, spacey vocals and earthy percussion lull the listener into a hypnotic trance.

“Demon Cleaner” rips. It’s stoner rock perfection. Garcia’s crooning vocal delivery coalesses with Homme’s riveting guitar and Reeder’s bass. But it’s Brant Bjork’s Godlike performance behind the kit that steals the show. It’s also a song about brushing your teeth.

John Garcia explains: “Nobody knows that “Demon Cleaner” is about brushing your teeth. I didn’t write that song; Josh wrote it, and it meant something totally different to me. But when it goes, “You get the back ones…” he’s talking about brushing your teeth…”

Josh Homme elaborates: “I have a tooth obsession. I’ve had everything done to my teeth that you could have done. I used to dream about teeth all the time-I’ve had nightmares about them since I was a kid, like horrible night terrors. I even went to the doctor about it, and that’s why I hate going to sleep even to this day. I still always have nightmares. So I’d have this recurring dream where I’m getting my teeth pulled out and then I’d flash forward and I’d be in a giant mouth with these teeth bleeding everywhere. And I’d be cleaning these giant teeth while the blood was coming down and I’d be drowning in a sea of toothbrush foam and blood. So “Demon Cleaner” was this metaphor for, you know, you gotta keep yourself clean, you gotta keep yourself tight…”

“Odyssey” opens with Homme’s heavily flanged guitar before the band locks in, revisiting some of the same intensity as opening track “Gardenia.” The song’s middle breaks down into a quasi-funk jam, with Scott Reeder shredding bass licks over Homme’s Nile Rodgers meets Tony Iommi guitar stabs. “Conan Troutman” bounces with a vengeance. At just over two minutes long, it’s the shortest track on the album. Full of intent and percussive accents. It’s a barnburner.

“Whitewater” closes out the album, at eight minutes, it’s the longest song on the album and one of its best. Heavy, hypnotic and catchy, this is Kyuss at their very best and is a fitting closure to a spectacular album. Dave Grohl of Nirvana said in a 1993 interview that “the future of grunge music is now evolving from Palm Springs, California; a band named Kyuss.” While that statement is hyperbole, it does display the wanton blurring of genre lines in the early ’90s.

Kyuss, like many bands at that time, appealed to a large cross section of fans. Metal, Stoner, Sludge, Classic Rock and Grunge fans could all find common ground when listening to Homme, Garcia, Bjork and Reeder pummel their senses. This was amazing rock music, with a desert twist.

Welcome To Sky Valley is a powerful statement. In some ways Kyuss are the great lost band of the ’90s. Their legacy has, in many ways, been swallowed whole by the success of Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age. Which is unfortunate.

Although Kyuss may be long gone, the legacy of albums like Welcome To Sky Valley looms large over the current musical landscape. Bassist Scott Reeder said in 2014: ” The Kyuss thing was exciting..!! The jams were always a little different. I guess that was a weird thing for a heavy rock band in those days? It blows me away that a few people still listen to it all these years later…”