20 Years Ago: Kyuss Release ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’
On June 28, 1994, a little-known band named Kyuss bid adventurous music listeners a hearty ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’ via their third studio album — soon to be regarded as a cornerstone of both the stoner rock and desert rock movements.
Just a few years earlier, Josh Homme (guitar), John Garcia (vocals), Brant Bjork (drums) and Nick Oliveri (bass) were literally living the lifestyle that their music came to represent: beer drinking, bud-smoking, garage band-forming teenagers trying to stave off mind-numbing boredom in the sparsely populated lower California desert, located some 100 miles east of Los Angeles.
Initially calling themselves Sons of Kyuss, which they borrowed from a Dungeons & Dragons character, the young group pooled a myriad of formative musical influences (hardcore and metal chief among them) into their ragged and raucous debut album, ‘Wretch,’ in 1991.
Then, with the help of producer Chris Goss (ex-Masters of Reality), Kyuss quickly refined and expanded their sound, fusing indie, psychedelic, drone, and especially space rock ingredients into their increasingly heavy sound to produce the following year’s groundbreaking ‘Blues for the Red Sun.’ This, in turn, set the stage for what was expected to be the band’s commercial breakthrough, ‘Welcome to Sky Valley,’ which, though it was expeditiously recorded by early 1993 with new bass player Scott Reeder, wound up languishing in unreleased limbo until the spring of ’94 (a sign of disappointments yet to come).
Still, when it did land in record stores that June, ‘Sky Valley’ quickly earned almost as many critical kudos as its formidable predecessor, while keeping listeners on their toes by lumping its 10 songs — not including the less-than-a-minute hidden track, ‘Lick Doo’ — into three extended suites meant to showcase Kyuss’ range, which included everything from metal to psychedelia.
To wit, the first of these suites rumbled into gear with the molten-lava guitar riff of ‘Gardenia,’ segued into the galaxy-traveling instrumental ‘Asteroid,’ and wrapped with a sweeping, start-stop colossus, oddly named ‘Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop.’
Suite two thrashed into action with the brief-and-to-the-point ‘100 Degrees,’ eased up into the mellow acoustics of ‘Space Cadet,’ and then accelerated into the monster groove of ‘Demon Cleaner,’ which had already teased fans months prior via label samplers.
Finally, the album’s third and last suite detonated headsets like an atom bomb, thanks to the psych-metallic catharsis of ‘Odyssey,’ highway-charging ‘Conan Troutman,’ acid-fueled rocker ’N.O.,’ and the epic closing space jam, ’Whitewater.’
Sadly, none of this stunning music connected with the public enough to makes its way onto the Billboard 200. Soon after its release, Bjork defected and was replaced by Alfredo Hernandez. Kyuss would hang on long enough to record 1995’s tellingly named, but already deflated, ‘…And the Circus Leaves Town,’ but confirmed their breakup before too long, thus freeing Garcia to try again with the equally doomed Unida. Homme and old pal Oliveri reinvented themselves for true stardom with Queens of the Stone Age.
However, the silver lining of Kyuss’ tragic career implosion is that the relatively modest exposure and record sales achieved during the group’s lifespan have since been eclipsed by their massive influence upon future bands — a legacy not unlike that of earlier underground legends as diverse as the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, or the Ramones.
So, although Kyuss may be long dead and dispersed to the four winds like so much desert sand, albums like ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’ continue to loom ever larger over the modern musical landscape.
Listen to ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’