SONIC YOUTH – DIRTY (1992)

KYUSS – BLUES FOR THE RED SUN (1992)

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 from the arid Palm Desert, California. Despite rave reviews from critics, Blues For The Red Sun was not a roaring success on release. The influence of Kyuss and this album far outweigh 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 and named themselves after an undead monster found in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game.

The Kyuss sound was heavy and trippy. Guitarist Josh Homme tuned to a guttural roar and played through a wall of bass amps for maximum effect. Like the generators they dragged into the desert for their legendary “Generator Parties”, bassist Nick Oliveri’s intensity was enough to power the party for days. Brant Bjork’s force behind the kit was true, like a beating heart. His enormous groove, thumping attack and energy are barely contained within the structures of each song while John Garcia’s voice roams on top of this immense din. His glassy upper register tone is unique and ideally suited to cut through the thick lava flow of riffs. 

Kyuss took the blueprint written 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. The unforgiving desert environment yielded an unforgiving attitude; 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”. 

The band convened in early 1992 to begin recording the album at the fabled Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. Masters Of Reality frontman Chris Goss was hired to produce; his goal was to capture the band’s raw energy and wreckball swing. “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.” 

“We recorded at Sound City, in the big room,” Oliveri recalls. “I remember little moments, like hearing things coming back from the tape during playback, that 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. The band crashes in with a titanic, heavy groove. John Garcia proclaims 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.” The subterranean swagger of the beat is jawdropping and only intensifies further when the band locks into a monstrous half-time feel as they thunder toward the outro, eventually gathering pace and careening to the finish line.

“Green Machine” is a prime Kyuss and the only single released from the album; its intent is evident 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 album’s release—filmed in the California desert, which was the band’s natural environment, its vast, bone-dry landscapes and big sky vistas give some insight into the reasoning for the band’s epic scale—feeling as though the enormous, monolithic groove produced by these desert rats is designed for one purpose: to fill the enormity of their surroundings with sound.  

The band’s ability to write beautifully dense, memorable instrumentals was admirable, and “Molten Universe” is no exception. The song’s funeral dirge channels a deep ghostly aura, eventually opening the throttle and morphing into a throbbing Levithan stomp. “50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)” begins 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 rock with a beautifully spacey outro section, it’s a masterpiece of desert groove, and ambience rolled into a single song. 

“Thong Song’s” playful verses see Homme playing a quirky, slippery guitar line while Garcia intones, “My hair is real long / No brains, all groin / No shoes, just thongs / I hate slow songs.” The song’s outro chorus provides a euphoric release and sees Garcia sarcastically deride “Hooray for, hooray for you” on repeat.

The second instrumental, “Apothecaries’ Weight,” opens with Homme’s edge of break-up guitar tone, strumming slightly phased passages of crisp melodic chords. Bjork’s loose ride cymbal exclamations glide across the top like sparks as Oliveri’s guttural bass lurks beneath. The intensity builds as Homme breaks into gorgeously knotted lower register lead lines. Bjork excels, adding wicked Bill Ward-esque drum fills throughout.

The sweeping, surging stomp of the instrumental “Caterpillar March” feels like a glorious gut punch. Overspilling with an irresistible, low-slung swagger, it races past with untamed intent with Homme guitar interludes channelling “Third Stone From The Sun,” era Hendrix.

“Freedom Run” follows. Its trippy, kaleidoscopic, tumbling intro resembles an interstellar acid trip, only for the band to pull you back to earth as they develop a vicious, stabbing, low-end groove full of menace and chug. “800” is an interlude that rips and builds with maniacal glee, slashing its way toward “Writhe,” a beautiful twisting contortion of groove which is a masterclass in emotive melody, reflective mood and glacial heaviness.

John Garcia’s pitch-perfect vocal delivery adds a gorgeous melancholia. Shot through with resigned hopelessness, 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 lose my cowboy boots.”

“Capsized” is a fifty-five-second acoustic interlude of breathtaking beauty. Homme’s arrangement and playing are masterful, and as the piece fades out, you long to hear more. “Allen’s Wrench” means business with an intense gallop that slaps from the speakers with vicious determination, not relenting for its runtime. The song’s thrilling punctuated stabs of rhythm barely dint the flailing forward momentum of this gripping barnburner.

“Mondo Generator” fades up from the deep. It’s a mid-tempo workout with Oliveri roaring into a fuzzed-out microphone seeped in disembodied delay effects. Oliveri’s pained protestations become more intense and undecipherable as the song drifts to a pulsed-out dip before gathering pace during the interstellar jam of the outro. After “Mondo Generator” fades from view, we hear a single, spoken “Yeah” listed as the album’s last track.  

The fabled “Brown Note” is a hypothetical infrasonic frequency capable of causing faecal incontinence by creating acoustic resonance in the human bowel. This, in short, means that theoretically, if a musical note is played loud enough, at a low enough frequency, chances are, you’ll uncontrollably shit yourself on hearing it. Kyuss’s sheer weight and pummelling power certainly worried many a trouser leg in the early ’90s.  

But behind the musical heft lies a beautiful heart. These songs are transformative, hypnotic, graceful, sophisticated, 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 a testament to the brilliance of Blues For The Red Sun. 

Essential…!!