Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review: Kyuss - Blues For The Red Sun

Pure Gold Coming From The American Desert 

Kyuss are the true champions of the desert/stoner rock and metal scenes. Along with Yawning Man they where one of the first bands to play in this style. They harnessed the desert sound better than any other band, truly capturing the landscape. The whole desert thing is certainly no gimmick, they would play gigs in the middle of the desert using generators. This album, as well as the two that came after, is widely influential to many bands that play in the stoner style (though I think desert rock is the best descriptor of Kyuss.) 

This album marks the beginning of what Kyuss truly was. Their debut album "Wretch" was pretty bad. "Son of a Bitch" and "Black Widow" were great songs, but as a whole the album pretty much blows. Plagued with horrible production and no shortage of filler, even the band doesn't like it. They go so far as refusing to refer to it as their debut. The production on "Blues for the Red Sun" is better, the songs all have purpose and are varied and filler is nowhere in sight. The production isn't as good as the two albums that follow, but the rawer production totally works here, bringing out the aggression in songs like "Green Machine."  "Wretch" couldn't really capture the atmosphere of the desert. In that album there weren't lighter sections used to build up atmosphere. On this album there are many of these and the album wouldn't be as special without them. They really draw you in, creating a hazy sun-soaked feeling which borders on psychedelia. "Capsized" is a perfect example. While many of these sections exist within songs, this one is a short instrumental grounded by an acoustic guitar. It is the audio equivalent of pleasantly drifting off under the desert sun, perhaps while experiencing an altered state of mind. 

"Blues for the Red Sun" shows a vast improvement in not only production but also lyrics and musical ability. Everyone involved seems to be better at what they do. This is where rock legend Josh Homme first made his mark. The riffs are killer and the subtler parts he plays are integral to the atmosphere. The leads are mostly laid back and always full of personality. This is the final album Nick Oliveri would play with Kyuss, choosing to leave the band to play with punk band The Dwarves. While I think Scott Reeder was better for Kyuss's sound, Nick was great. His bass intro after the samples die out in "Freedom Run" is classic, it really sets the tone for the song. The bass is an indispensable part of Kyuss's sound. While we are on the subject of bass, it should be noted that while in Kyuss, Josh plugged his guitar into bass amps to get the signature Kyuss guitar tone. 

Brant Bjork, who later went on to pursue a solo career, is a beast behind the kit. While his best work is on the next album (check out the drum intro to "Demon Cleaner"), this album shows him coming into his own. His playing always perfectly suits the music it is accompanying. He certainly knows when to be subtle and hold back (sometimes less really is more) and the snare heavy style he uses in more rocking sections works perfectly. Kyuss would not have the same personality without John Garcia's vocals. Powerful and distinctive, he sounds like he has downed a couple shots of whiskey before recording. Crooning "I've seemed to lost my cowboy boots" on "Writhe", he is truly at the top of his game. On this song his vocals are somewhat laid back but come off as more than a bit creepy. On heavy hitter "Green Machine", he really wails, giving a performance that I won't soon forget. 

"50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)" is without a doubt my favourite Kyuss song. This song showcases everything that made Kyuss such an important and innovative band. The drum intro, while not incredibly complex, is one of Bjork's finer moments. The riffing is great, as well as the sparse, atmospheric notes. John fucking kills it on vocals. A large factor that makes this song so successful is that it merges the two sides of Kyuss - the weeded-out mellow side and their aggressive side. It starts out raging, entering metal territory. Both the verse and chorus are something that I won't soon forget. The mellow half of the song is wonderful too, something that I could easily drift away to. It is really cool to see John use both aggressive and mellow vocal styles in the same song. This song is evidence of Kyuss's diversity, talent and originality. 

This album shows Kyuss becoming their own band and discovering their unique sound. A mix of aggression and mellowed out passages, this is one hell of a journey. An album that continues to inspire an entire genre, this is not one that will soon be forgotten. They never shy away from doing things differently, examples being the weird distorted vocals on "Mondo Generator" (a song that Nick Oliveri later named his band after, mondo meaning "world" in Italian) and their weird approach to the loud/soft dynamic on "Thong Song." This album is diverse but always cohesive. Softer passages completely work in an album that has spawned aggressive and certifiably bad ass songs like "Thumb" and "Green Machine." This is the beginning of the trilogy of Kyuss's good albums, which can only be described as pure gold.  


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