Kyuss was spawned on the wrong side of the tracks in the country club oasis of Palm Desert, California; lacking anything resembling a club scene, the band honed its chops playing “generator parties” in the desert (presumably scattering gila monsters for miles around), emerging with a parched and blistering sound at the vortex where Black Flag, Black Sabbath and the Misfits meet. It’s hard to discuss Kyuss without exhausting the permutations of the words “hot” and “dry,” but song titles like “Molten Universe,” “Caterpillar March,” “Demon Cleaner” and “Asteroid” are aptly evocative.
Wretch (which followed an extremely rare 1990 release, Sons of Kyuss) contains the band’s demos and sounds like it, creeping at times into a sort of grunge-Danzig realm. The album does surge with energy, however; guitarist Josh Homme’s ultra-distorted, oddly tuned riffs and John Garcia’s menacingly melodic vocals are full of the promise that bloomed on the band’s next album.
Kyuss found itself through the agency of Chris Goss, the Masters of Reality vocalist whose affinity for droning fuzz-riffs, floorboard-rattling bass and skull-shattering cymbals proved a perfect fit on the three Kyuss albums he produced. On Blues for the Red Sun, Goss tapped into Kyuss’ hidden reserve of nitrous oxide, resulting in a sound that’s like speed-metal only without the speed, summoning visions of a flared tailpipe spewing exhaust fumes. The ferocious “Thumb” and the droning instrumental “Apothecaries’ Weight” show Kyuss equally potent at playing hard and soft; though the album does drag a bit toward the end, it’s one of the most gratifying blasts of volume this decade has yet produced.
Delayed for nearly a year by the collapse of Chameleon Records, the monolithic Kyuss (informally known as Welcome to Sky Valley for the road sign pictured on its cover) picks up right where its predecessor left off, verging into (tongue-in-cheek) ultra-pretentiousness by dividing the album into three roman-numeral “movements” and indulging in some of the most over-the-top instrumental work since the demise of Mountain. New bassist Scott Reeder (ex-Obsessed, but also a Palm Desert native) adds considerable Rickenbacker girth to an already fearsome rhythm section; the quartet branches out instrumentally with the trippy, acoustic “Space Cadet” and the calmer “Whitewater.” The rest of it, however, is pure, brilliant brute force.
Kyuss had reached the end of that particular stylistic tether, however. …And the Circus Leaves Town finds the band seeking a new direction with limited success. Following another personnel change (Alfredo Hernández of Palm Desert’s Yawningman — whose “Catamaran” is covered here — replaced original drummer Brant Bjork), the songs are shorter, more concise and more deliberately melodic than in the past. But there’s really not much here the group hadn’t done before. The One Inch Man EP contains three self-produced tracks that stake out punkier, rawer sonic terrain and seem to hint at a promising new stylistic vein — unfortunately, they turned out to be the last songs Kyuss recorded. The band threw in the towel in late ’95. Guitarist Josh Homme toured in Screaming Trees and formed Gamma Ray, which became Queens of the Stone Age — a trio with Hernández and onetime Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri, who’d been playing in the Dwarves under the name Rex Everything.