Thursday, May 17, 2018

Today’s Rhino birthday boy is probably best known these days for his work with either Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, or – to a slightly lesser extent – Them Crooked Vultures, but there was once a time when Josh Homme was best known as the guitarist and occasional backing vocalist for the band Kyuss. As such, we thought today would be a good day to take a deep dive and look back at that band’s major-label debut. 

Recorded at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY was co-produced by the band and Chris Goss, who at the time was known far more for being the vocalist of the band Masters of Reality than he was for being a producer. Since then, of course, he’s helmed a number of projects, including albums by Screaming Trees (DUST), Soulwax (LEAVE THE STORY UNTOLD), Stone Temple Pilots (TINY MUSIC… SONGS FROM THE VATICAN GIFT SHOP), and – wait for it – 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, the band led by one Russell Crowe. 

But we digress.

WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY had some problems with its release, with Kyuss having been caught unawares when their label, Chameleon Records, closed its doors abruptly on November 11, only two months before the album was supposed to have been coming out. Thankfully, Elektra Records, who’d been in business with Chameleon, decided to pick up the album, but the original date they set for the album – March 1994 – ended up getting pushed by three months. You can only imagine the band’s frustration. 

Finally, on June 28, 1994, WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY hit stores. It was the band’s first album to feature bassist Scott Reeder, and it was their last album to feature drummer Brant Bjork, but it was deemed a creative success by both fans and critics. 

The album's 13 songs are divided into three "suites" which fully display the band's impressive creative range, from furious metal to psychedelic grooves, and anything in between. The first and most consistent of these suites starts with the huge guitar riff of "Gardenia" (which resembles molten lava flowing down the side of a volcano), continues into the moody space jam instrumental "Asteroid," and culminates in the strangely titled yet superbly diverse "Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop." Other highlights include the solid thrashing of "100 Degrees," the prog rock instrumental "Whitewater," and the rather mellow (by Kyuss standards) "Demon Cleaner." But no song exemplifies the Kyuss sound as well as the aptly titled "Odyssey," which opens suite number three and provides a veritable blueprint of the band's unique combination of ingredients. The track begins with a cryptic melody, explodes into a ferocious riff, glides into a psychedelic bridge, then returns to full-throttle for its conclusion.


In 2013, Rolling Stone listed the LP on their list of the 40 Greatest Stoner Albums, describing it as “the muzzy sound of four very high young men hanging out in Palm Desert, California, just making one of the all-time great stoner metal albums, no big deal.” 

Unfortunately, “no big deal” is an apt phrase to describe the way WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY was received by the record-buying public at large: the album failed to crack the Billboard 200, which proved to be a thoroughly deflating experience for Kyuss. They managed to release one more studio album – 1995’s …AND THE CIRCUS LEAVES TOWN – but ended up calling it quits thereafter. Thankfully, Homme landed on his feet, and it’s arguable that the world would never have been graced with Queens of the Stone Age if Kyuss had been more successful than they were, but why they failed to hit the big time remains one of hard rock’s great mysteries.

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