HEY, MAN! STOP BOGARTIN THAT JOINT!
A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO STONER ROCK
Call it the revenge of Spicoli.
Sure, Sean Penn as the perpetually zonked SoCal surfer-dude may be everyones favorite character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with pronouncements like "People on ludes should not drive" celebrated as pop-culture catch phrases. But in real life, Spicoli and his kindthe unrepentant stonersare most often shunned, cast off to their own table in a corner of the high school cafeteria, and doomed to four-year sentences of detentions, demerits, and warnings sent home to their parents.
It turns out that all those superior mall rats, jocks, and cheerleaders dont know what theyre missingthe key factor that unites the Spicolis of the world even more than the coveted toke of the sweet leaf. Its the music, man. The music!
"When I was growing up, if you were into Black Sabbath, you were on the other side of the room, man," says Scott "Wino" Weinrich, leader of the legendary Obsessed and the new trio Spirit Caravan. "Back in the day when I first started getting stoned, we were really, really put through the mill; if you were known to smoke pot, then you were called a junkiethat kind of stuff."
In the late 60s and early 70s, during those dark days that followed the violence at Altamont and the death of the Woodstock nation but before Richard M. Nixon succumbed to the Watergate scandal and the last chopper pulled away from Saigon in shame, rock was dominated by twee simps at one extreme (James Taylor and his folk-rock ilk) and manufactured bubblegum fads at the other (Osmonds, Jacksons, Partridges ad nauseum).
At the same time, away from the harsh glare of the mainstream spotlight, a new rock underground was being born, combining the live intensity of jammed-out blues-rockers like Cream and the Yardbirds with the psychedelic invention of studio masterpieces like the Beatles Revolver and the Whos Tommy. In time, this collision would give birth to a mighty new genre called heavy metal. But there were always bands that didnt quite fit that appellationthat were more melodic or more inventive, smarter or trippier. Stoner bands.
Fast-forward two and a half decades and we find the same combination of influences happening again, serving once more as a vital rock alternative to a pathetic mainstream dominated byyou guessed ittwee simps at one extreme (Limp Bizkit and their rap-rock ilk) and manufactured bubblegum fads at the other (Backstreets, Britneys, N Syncs ad nauseum).
This time the sound has a name: stoner rock. But as with ska-punk, emo, and every other promising new genre to erupt in the last few years, its practitioners are reluctant to embrace that moniker, knowing full well (thanks to the enduring lesson of grunge) that its just one small step from naming a new movement to diluting it, marketing it, and ruining it forever.
One camp favors a broader use of terms. "I might use the word stoner in my lyrics, but I think were really metal, dude, or just plain rock n roll," says Matt Pike, the driving force behind Sleep and High On Fire. Another camp persists in slicing and dicing the burgeoning movement into ever-finer and more exclusive sub-genres, breaking stoner rock down into categories like dirt rock, desert rock, biker rock (the Steppenwolf sound), and beard rock (a la ZZ Top).
Since the early 90s, the Europeans have been calling it "doom," but no one likes that name, redolent as it is of gothic trappings like black nail polish and bat wings.
Name it what you will, its hard to deny the kindred spirit and unifying vibe shared by this new wave of hard-rocking, uncompromising, but never less than ultra-melodic bands. Most of them hail from the U.S.primarily the California desertbut theres a sizable European contingent as well, mainly from the U.K. So far they are mostly recording for a small but select group of indie labels, including Englands Rise Above (which is distributed in the U.S. by The Music Cartel) and San Franciscos Mans Ruin (the company started by renowned poster artist Frank Kozik).
As with any interesting rock hybrid, the hallmarks of the stoner-rock sound are hard to pin down. "I would say its got to be straightforward rock n rollyour basic three instruments rocking away with a straightforward beat and no distractions," says Eric Lemasters, founder of The Music Cartel. "The term stoner rock is basically just those bands who are playing rock music but everything is a little more distorted. Heavy metal was the first music to put a faster beat with the distortion. Stoner rock has taken all of those elements and slowed them back down, so youve still got the distortion and the same aggression but not necessarily the speed. Although there are faster bands, too ."
Confused? Maybe the best way to get a grip on the sound and the movement is with a list of symbols epitomizing both. Stoner rock is often about flaming gongs; massive Marshals; SVTs; vintage Vistalite drum sets; long, greasy hair; tattoos; ear-crunching volume; heavy-duty ride cymbals; huge, hum-along riffs; fuzztone, fuzztone, and more fuzztone; tongue-in-cheek lyrical references to drug manuals and role-playing fantasy games; Russ Meyer movies; a big underground buzz; beer; black lights, and bongs.
Stoner rock is almost never about drum machines or synthesizers; hair gel; love songs; rapping (freestyle or otherwise); "unplugged" anything, or MTV-level hype.
Still baffled? Lets proceed to the following profiles of the leading lights from four of the finest bands on the current stoner scenethe Queens of the Stone Age, Spirit Caravan, High On Fire, and sHEAVYas well as some Cliff Notes-style guides to essential recent releases, classic influences, and sources for further study.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: THE GREAT WHITE DOPE ER, HOPE
Its early in the tour on Ozzfest 2000, and Josh Homme, the guitarist, vocalist, and key auteur behind the Queens of the Stone Age, is diplomatically hedging on the cell phone in his tour bus, doing his best not to say just how much this years rap-rock-dominated lineup sucks.
"Uh, its not all my cup of tea," Homme finally grants. "But Im backing Pantera and Incubus and Ozzy, and theres some other good bands, too. If theres rapping and shit like that, and the music is too hip-hop, its out of my element. Im not really down with the merge."
For many in the stoner-rock community, the Queens represent the genres best chance to break big, reintroducing the masses of Generation Y to real rock n roll the way that Nirvana did at the outset of the 90s. Homme has more than paid his dues as a member of the hugely influential Kyuss; the Queens followed a strong self-titled debut in 1998 with the hard-hitting Rated R; the single "The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret" has cracked modern-rock radio, and the bands label (Interscope, the company that brought us Marilyn Manson, Limp Bizkit, and Eminem) was set to unleash an all-out hype fest.
Given all this momentum, it struck some of the stoner faithful as a huge disappointmentif not a downright sell-outto find the Queens linking up with the tired, corporate Ozzfest instead of headlining a stoner-rock march to triumph. But this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the king Queens character: Homme is a man who clearly believes the Groucho Marx adage of not wanting to belong to any club that would have him as a member.
"I see us not fitting into it at all," the guitarist says of the movement he helped spawn. "In my own mind, its something that exists without me. Kyuss was around before the term existed, and I dont believe that either of these Queens records are stoner-rock records. When were included in the category, I always feel like the outsider. Ive always tried to be outside of whatevers going onI play rock n roll because I want to do something that someone else isnt doing."
Well, sure; who doesnt? But the bands moniker nods pretty directly at the name of the genre. And isnt a song like Rated Rs "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" (with its irresistible chorus of "Nicotine, Valium, Vicodan, marijuana, Ecstasy, and alcohol!") designed as a stoner-rock anthem?
"It might be, or it might be like a knife in the neck of stoner rock," Homme says, hedging once again. "Its hard to tell, and I think thats the good part about it. Look, youre always going to get labeled with something. Stoner rock is kind of a dumbing-down label, and thats why I dont gravitate toward it. And I think some of the bands that embrace it are under the influence of some of the other bands a little bit too much."
One of the bands doing the influencing is, of course, Kyuss. Taking its name from some monsters called "the Sons of Kyuss" in the Dungeons & Dragons book Deities and Demigods, the quartet burst out of Palm Desert, California, in 1991, unleashing a pounding, fuzz-laden sound that fell somewhere between punk, metal, and grunge. The group toured relentlessly and delivered four albums that were beloved by its fans, but it never rose much above cult status. There are now 1,000 people who claim to have been at every Kyuss show that actually drew 100.
Though the band is pretty much revered in the current stoner-rock underground, Homme refused to dwell in the past. "If such a world exists, I wouldnt want to live there," he says. "I want people to dig it and enjoy it, but I want them to do it without me." The difference between Kyuss and his new band is partly one of attitudeHomme chose the name in part to tweak macho metalheadsand partly one of sonic approach. Mixed in with the Queens metal/punk overdrive is a melodic, trance-inducing quality that owes as much to70s Krautrock (including German art-rockers such as Can, Neu!, and Kraftwerk) as it does to New Wave synth-poppers like Devo and Gary Numan.
"I learned a lot with Kyuss," Homme says, "and I didnt want to be in a situation again where you just have to play something heavy, because if you dont, then everyones gonna go, Whats your problem? It just seemed like this band should be something thats too greasy to hold on to. I also think Kyuss was adamant about not showing its influences, and thats partly to do with a misunderstanding of the term. If you compared us to something in Kyuss, we would have taken it as you saying we were copying that band. Anything that got close to anything else, wed go, Cant play it, sorry. At this point I realize what youre saying is that if you like this, you might like that. Its more inspirational than mimicry."
The final difference between the Queens and Kyuss is that the Queens arent really a bandat least not in the sense that Kyuss was. Homme considers himself and bassist Nick Oliveri (a veteran of shock-punkers the Dwarves) to be the only permanent members of his new group. An impressive cast of contributors comes and goes onstage and on the albums: Rated R includes cameos by Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Chris Goss of Masters of Reality, and Barrett Martin of the Screaming Trees. (Homme served as second guitarist with the latter group on its final album.)
"Id like to keep it loose, open, and free," Homme says of the Queens lineup. "I just think that if we can expand and contract, then theres nothing we cant do, and even the old songs will never be something like, Oh, lets not play that anymore."
Is there room for such invention from a hard-rocking band in these dire pop times, with teenyboppers at one end of the spectrum and bullshit rappers at the other?
"Thats the beauty of it," Homme says. "Im sort of free to run the range, because Im not competing with that bullshit. I couldnt ask for a better time. It would be much worse if there were a bunch of bands trying to sound like us; Id be walking amongst the sheeple. Now I just kind of get to walk freely. I prefer that."
KEY RECORDINGS: Kyuss four albums are all pretty much essential owning; they include 1991s Wretch; 92s Blues for the Red Sun; 94s Sky Valley, and 95s And the Circus Leaves Town. (Sky Valley on Elektra is probably the best place to start.)
Both Queens discs deliver the goods, though Rated R is a bit slighter and more irreverent than its predecessor. Homme has also overseen six volumes of Desert Sessions discs on Mans Ruin, featuring jammed-out collaborations with pals from Soundgarden, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, and Wool, among others. Find them at http://www.mansruin.com/.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT HIS GUITAR SOUND: "My own guitar playing is much more focused now," Homme says. "I pick my spots. Ive always wanted to be able to sing whatever I played, so that its more of a melody and not a guitar solo. Thats whats so great about Sabbath or the Stooges. You can sing the leads on both those bands, and so theres something instead of just straight-up chords, which sometimes you get, too. But you also get these lines that just run through the whole song, these hook lines, and I think those are very important. It involves what you dont play as opposed to what you do play."
LEGEND, SHMEGEND: PLAIN OL WINO WILL DOTHE OBSESSED AND SPIRIT CARAVAN
After Kyuss, no proto-stoner band has been more of an inspiration than the Obsessed.
"I appreciate the legendary status, because Ive been at this since the mid-70s," says guitarist/vocalist Scott Weinrich, better known as Wino. "When I hear people like Phil Anselmo tell me, Wino and the Obsessed were instrumental in helping me go on, or people like Fugazi tell me thats one of the reasons they started playing, that gives me a good feeling."
The Obsessed was renowned in the early 80s as the only band that could bring Washington, D.C.s famous straight-edge punk scene together with the stoner/metalhead crowd. Uniting the two disparate camps was the sheer the joy and intensity of the bands music, which mixed equal parts Stooges, Black Sabbath, and Blue Cheer and threw in the occasional Dead Boys or Dictators cover for good measure. The band went through numerous lineup changes; released a string of indie records; loaned Wino out to the SST group St. Vitus, andthrough sheer persistence and enduranceeventually found itself signed to Columbia. (The lineup that released 1994s The Church Within featured bassist Scott Reeder, who went on to join Kyuss.)
"In the end we all know what happens if you dont have a big hit," Wino says philosophically; the time wasnt right, and The Church Within flopped. "Plus, I picked up a couple of bad habits, and all of these factors contributed to end of the Obsessed. I took a long hiatus somewhere in the mid-90sthree years of no musical productivity. Theyre lost years, but you know, it was a logical progression of what had to happen, like house cleaning. And it didnt kill me."
Eventually Wino began jamming with two friends and veterans of the doom scene, bassist Gary Isom (Iron Man, Pentagram) and drummer Dave Sherman (Love Razor, Wretched). "I was still reeling from everything, and I was not 100 percent sure I was ready to start again from scratch," he says. But the power of the new trios electric sludge was hard to deny. It recorded one single under the name Shine and pressed 1,000 copies on red vinyl"Man, I recently saw that record going for 100 bucks on eBay!" Wino saysbefore learning that a group in Arizona had trademarked that name.
Some of Winos pals offered to go to the desert to convince the other group to give up the moniker, but the musician would rather make love than fight. He chose a new name, Spirit Caravan, after an old Obsessed song. "I wanted to have a name that was a little bit ambiguous but still positive," he says. "The positive thing is real important to me. I know people will say, Oh, hes a fucking hippie and all that, but in reality, a positive vibe thing is so much more important to me than a name like Bloody Corpse, you know what I mean? Black metals hot, Im not dissing that; its a modern version of punk rock in a way. But thats not what Im about."
To date, Spirit Caravan has released two albums, and its putting the finishing touches on a third, Elusive Truth, scheduled for release around Christmas on Tolotta, the label run by Fugazi bassist Joe Lally. (The company has also reissued reissued the self-titled Obsessed disc known as the "purple" album, though it now has an all-red cover.) Wino is looking forward to touring hard, and hes more optimistic about his band and the state of rock in general than he has been at any point in years.
"Its like everybody says, rock n roll will never die," Wino maintains. "Everybody knows the good feeling they get when theyre down and they turn on the radio and they hear Heart of Gold or Paranoid. The power of that special songman, it can move mountains. As for stoner rock, its just a new media handle. Everybody is saying that they hate the term, but there always has to be a description put on something. When you think of the term stoner rock, to me its like you close your eyes, youre really listening to the music, and the melody is taking you somewhere. Its like a tripthe music becomes a drug."
KEY RECORDINGS: The Obsessed (a.k.a. "The Purple Album") is generally considered the classic, though Incarnate, Lunar Womb, and The Church Within are all well worth owning. Spirit Caravans two efforts, Jug Fulla Sun (Meteor City) and Dreamwheel (Tolotta) carry on the proud tradition.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT HIS GUITAR SOUND: "I hate to be too general, but basically, its true: It all comes from Sabbath or Blue Cheer," Wino says. "The Sabbath sound was dark, real low, not much treblekind of like a mid-range kind of grind. The Blue Cheer sound was more of like a Marshall or an Orange sound, a little bit more shrill. Leigh Stephens soundhe opened and shut the book on fucking heavy rock in America. You put four Marshall majors out on some pier in San Franciscothat hasnt been touched. Thats the low, dark, bassy sound which is what everybody emulates to this day even in techno. But I would also have to give it up to the Grand Funk Railroad kind of thinglow, powerful rhythms and screaming fucking leads and the melody. The melody has got to be there, threading through it all."
WERE NOT WORTHY, WERE NOT WORTHY: SLEEP, HIGH ON FIRE, AND THE MYSTICAL MR. PIKE
Chicagos late, lamented Lounge Ax, 1994: Helios Creed and Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner are headlining, so it is an adventurous, noise-loving crowd, to say the least. Still, the band thats kicking things off is so punishing, so brutal, so unrelentingly heavy that even the heartiest noise mongers are heading for the door in droves. This is my introduction to Sleep and the guitar genius of Matt Pike.
Sleep came together in San Jose, California, in the late 80s when Pike hooked up with bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius shortly after moving to the desert from Colorado and military school. The goal was the now familiar one of mixing Sabbath and punk rock; for a while, the vehicle was a quartet, but the nascent bands second guitarist quit to become a priest in Alaska (no shit) and the lineup settled in as a trio. Its debut, Holy Mountain, was released on Earache in 1992, but it was the sophomore effort that really set heads reeling.
Jerusalem is the stoner-rock classic of modern times, as well as one of the heaviest records in any genre ever, period. Released on The Music Cartel in 1999, it consisted of but one 52-minute trackmassive, monolithic, and lumbering like a brontosaurus through the bog. "Earache sat on Holy Mountain forever, and that fucked with us real bad," Pike recalls. "It took us about four years to get out of that, and during those four years we wrote the song Jerusalem. Al had said, Gee, dont you think it would be awesome just to cut through the bullshit and do one huge gigantic piece--like Beethoven, but make it different? Our influences were real monotone, real Indian-sounding, real dub-reggae. Its pot music, you know what I mean? We were smoking like God, dude, two to four ounces a day!"
Not for nothing does the back cover depict one of the funkiest homemade bongs ever photographed. But make no mistake: Jerusalem is not merely stoned self-indulgence or a particularly inspired jam preserved for posterity. After its four-year genesis, it was painstakingly recorded during two months of intense studio sessions. "Man, it took a long time," Pike says. "When I was playing that slow intro, that was a bitch to play the whole thing through and keep the time perfect. And then once the drums and bass come in There were like fucking math charts on the wall, everything. There was so much to remember."
This includes mystical lyrics that would do the Cult of the Illuminati proud. "It was a real spiritual, holy thing for all of us," Pike says. "All of us are very unorthodox Christians and amateur theologistswe like to study different religions but kind of believe in one God. I give a lot of that albums doing to Himwithout a lot of prayer and without a lot of marijuana and our past psychedelic experiences, that album wouldnt have happened."
The problem with an epic effort like Jerusalem is that its almost impossible to top. Indeed, Sleep came to an end shortly after the discs release. "It was kind of time," Pike says. "After all that, it was just really fucking tough. We couldnt even be in the same room together." The guitarist retired to his garage and dedicated himself to taking his guitar to the next level. In time, he was joined by some new players, bassist George Rice and drummer Desmond Kensel, friends from up north in Oakland. When they couldnt find anybody to sing, Pike took on those duties himself, and High On Fire was born.
Some fans have said that the bands self-titled debut and the new The Art of Self Defense are sort of like Jerusalem chopped up into shorter song segments. "I have a certain way of playing, but Ive been trying to make the tempos different and develop new picking techniques and different scales, and I blend them into something different that Sleep fans can appreciate but its its own thing," Pike says. "I just freak out on guitar stuff. Im completely scientific about it. I do care about my leads, a lot but since Ive been in this band, I pay more attention to the actual hardness of the riffs. I want to do something that sounds like, Whoa, dude! What a trip!"
Pike and his bandmates plan to tour through the fall and begin recording early next year for a spring release. "This next one should be a fucking heavy hitter," Pike promises. "The tempos are even a little faster than the last one, and some of the riffs are like mayhem and a lot more violent-soundinglike warrior metal or something, but still very psychedelic in its own way." As for whether High On Fire deserves the stoner-rock tag, the musician is as ambivalent as many of his peers.
"Its a very strong scene, but I dont think any of the stoner-rock bands want to be labeled as stoner rock," Pike says. "They dont want to be dismissed as a fad. Id say I was crossover metal or progressive metal, but I guess we get the stoner-rock label because of the whole pot thing. I think the labeling is stupid, but then again, I just have to accept it because thats where Ive been thrown into."
KEY RECORDINGS: If you care about heavy rock at all, you need to own Jerusalem. (Rush out and buy it right now; the rest of the article will wait.) Got it? Good. Sleeps Holy Mountain, The Art of Self Defense (Mans Ruin), and High On Fire (Matamp) ought to be your next purchases (in that order)after you scrape yourself off the floor following your first exposure to Jerusalem.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT HIS GUITAR SOUND: "I had a lot of influences, man," Pike says. "The main thing is Tony Iommi, definitely. And John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Heavy riffs and odd guitar playing that has strange timingput those two together and you get me. And Hendrix too! Im into so many: old Scorpions, Hawkwind ."
AND NOW A WORD FROM NEWFOUNDLAND: sHEAVY
Its written "sHEAVY" but pronounced "Chevy," like the car.
"We were called Green Machine in the beginning because we couldnt think of a name and because we played Green Machine by Kyuss," drummer Ren Squires says. "That tune was kind of dear to our hearts because its about hotrods and trucks and cars. Of course, theres like ten other bands called Green Machine, so when it came time to making a demo, an old girlfriend of mine jokingly said we should call ourselves Ford or Chrysler or Chevy."
The band opted to change the spelling on the lattermissing out on product endorsements, perhaps, but also avoiding lawsuits. I first read the moniker as "(It)s heavy," and I still prefer that version. "Oh, thats a good one, too," Squires says. "First time weve heard that, but it fits." Indeed it does.
sHEAVY first came together in the summer of 1993 in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canadathere wasnt much to do this remote locale besides get stoned and jam. Squires ran a mail-order distribution service, Dallas Tar Records, for underground metal fans, and whenever hed do business with another company, hed send along a copy of his groups initial D.I.Y. release, Blue Sky Mind. Thats how sHEAVY wound up signed to Rise Above in the U.K., then picked up by The Music Cartel in the U.S.
Over the course of the next two albums, the quartet honed a hard-hitting but ultra-melodic sound that has often been compared to the mighty Black Sabbath, thanks to the eerily Ozzy-like character of singer Steve Hennesseys voice. But this isnt to say that sHEAVY is a one-dimensional tribute band.
"The first record came out and everybody was like, Wow, it sounds so much like Sabbath," Squires says. "We understand it, but there was so much more there. When we recorded Electric Sleep, we were like, O.K., if they want to hear Sabbath, lets give them a Sabbath song! We named the album after the title track just to put emphasis on that song. Theres some tongue-in-cheek fun there, but theres a lot of seriousness, too. There are double standards all throughout our music, and I think thats what makes it interesting."
If you know your geography, you know that although Newfoundland is part of North America, its actually closer to England than the U.S. This puts sHEAVY in an interesting position to comment on the differences between the American and European schools of stoner rock. "In America, I think the stoner thing is just from Kyuss, basically," Squires says. "Unfortunately, there are so many bands that sound just like Kyuss did that now its actually kind of boring. Plus, America kind of has the southern rock thing, whereas in Britain, its bands like Cathedral and Orange Goblin and the Rise Above stuff, and theyre not doing the same thing as the American metal at all."
Because of the distances and the expense, sHEAVY has yet to do a major tour in the U.S., but its story remains inspirational nonetheless: If stoner rock can thrive on a remote, windswept outpost like Newfoundland, it has the potential to catch on anywhere.
"There will always be a certain amount of people who will love this kind of stuff," Squires says. "Theres always these kinds of different movements that come up and go down and then fade away, but I think regular rock n roll stuff will always be there, and that is really what were talking about."
KEY RECORDINGS: The new Celestial Hi-Fi builds on the impressive debut The Electric Sleep by tightening the bands sound and adding a tinge of Southern Rock to Dan Moores guitar sound. Both are available in the U.S. on The Music Cartel.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE GUITAR SOUND: "Its kind of low-budget but big-budget at the same time," says Squires. "Like Grand Funk Railroad had some great recordings: That whole hard-panned thing with two solos hitting the speakers completely independent of each other--it forces you to listen to the music a bit more intensely. You can hear the sound of Tony Iommi clicking the guitar pedal. Basically it boils down to a live feel. We always played live a lot, and when we recorded our first album, all the solos were live off the floor right where we played the drums. Theres separation, but its kind of isolated instruments so you can just control the recording quality. Otherwise its as live as it can be. It transfers the whole vibe of the band."
NUGGETS AND BOULDERS: SOME RECENT STONER-ROCK RAMPAGES THAT YOU REALLY NEED TO HEAR
Orange Goblin, Time Traveling Blues (The Music Cartel): Psychedelic Brit metalheads with a love of American Southern rock. The album coverlong-haired biker dude, mean chopper, cosmic starscapesays it all.
Nebula, To the Center (Sub Pop): Everybodys favorite Seattle indie is coming back strong by returning to the killer riff-rock that made it famous in the first place. This ones a keeper, from the melodic "Fields of Psilocybin" to the cover of the Stooges warped blues, "I Need Somebody."
Scissorfight, WonderdrugUp the Dosage (Wonderdrug): Hard-edged Boston metal-punk-psychedelic-noise monsters with a quick-growing buzz in the underground. Inspirational song title: "I Sold Your Dog to a Chinese Restaurant."
Monster Magnet, Powertrip (A&M): The latest from Dave Wyndorfs long-running combo struck some hard-rock fans as overly shticky, but I heard it as the aural equivalent of Hunter S. Thompsons Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Earlier efforts like Dopes to Infinity and Spine of God play it straighter, heavier, and trippier, though they arent quite as melodic.
Cathedral, Soul Sacrifice/Statik Majik (Earache): Cathedral is a mainstay of the English "doom" scene and a master of the monstrous riff. This recent compilation of two rare EPs from 1992 and 93 is a fine introduction.
Fu Manchu, King of the Road (Mammoth): The latest from car- and cycle-obsessed California desert rockers doesnt vary the formula established with earlier epics like Eatin Dust or Daredevil, but we dont turn to stoner rock for variety. We want the riffs, and the band delivers. Witness "No Dice," which draws its lyrics from a scene with Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High ("No shoes, no shirt, no dice!").
The Men of Porn, Porn American Style (Mans Ruin): A San Francisco group comprised of veterans from the Swans, Helios Creed, and Acid King that proudly and loudly revels in sleaze via tunes like "Ballad of the Bulldyke," "Dancing Black Ladies," and "Coming Home (Smoking Pot On A Sunday Afternoon While UFOs Drone Overhead)." The answer to the question, "What if Russ Meyer had fronted a rock band?"
The Melvins, The Crybaby (Ipecac): Pacific Northwest innovators who remain as vital and heavy as ever on the final installment of a trilogy that also includes The Maggot and The Bootlicker. Here the boys apply their patented clang n clatter to songs by their idols, including the Jesus Lizard, Merle Haggard, and their late pal Kurt Cobain. Everybody needs some Melvins in their collection, and this one is almost as good as classics like Bullhead and Stoner Witch.
Acid King, Busse Woods (Mans Ruin): Power trio led by Lori Crover, a.k.a. the wife of the Melvins drummer Dale. Heavy youd expect, but a killer cover of "39 Lashes" from Jesus Christ Superstar might come as a surprise.
Terra Firma, Terra Firma (The Music Cartel): Formed by veterans of Unleashed and St. Vitus, this quartet delivers rhythmic stomp a la vintage Sabbath and fret board frenzy akin to the best of Ritchie Blackmore. Plus theres the looniest Lord of the Rings lyrics since Zep fought the Battle of Evermore. From "Troll Formula": "Something wicked comes your way/Because abracadabraYour breed is such easy prey!/I lick your open wounds with a poisoned tongue/And you can bet your ass that Ive already won."
Atomic Bitchwax, The Atomic Bitchwax (Tee Pee/MIA): New Jersey power trio led by Monster Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell, who lashes out on his own with a vengeance.
Various artists, Rise 13: Magick Rock Vol. 1 (The Music Cartel): This compilation serves as a fine sampler of the Rise Above roster, with contributions from Unida, Acrimony, Hangnail, and Goatsnake as well as many of the artists mentioned above.
Various artists, Right in the Nuts (A Tribute to Aerosmith) (Small Stone Records): A tribute album that reminds us that once upon a timelong before they met Dianne WarrenSteven Tyler, Joe Perry, and their mates were proto-stoner-rockers. Contributors include beard-rock pioneers Raging Slab, Men of Porn, Roadsaw, and Atomic Bitchwax, all of whom do their best to reclaim classics like "Sweet Emotion," "Toys in the Attic," and "Bright Light Fright" from the hacks who gave us "Pink."
UNEARTHING THE CLASSICS: SIX ESSENTIAL, INFLUENTIAL, UNFORGETTABLE PROTO-STONER MASTERPIECES
Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (Warner Bros.): The cough at the start of "Sweet Leaf." Tony Iommis indelible riff. Geezer Butler and Bill Wards marauding rhythm. Ozzys poetic homage to a marijuana plant. Nuff said.
Hawkwind, 25 Years On 1973-1977 box set (Griffin Music): A fine primer on the legendary space-rockers and metal pioneers, a gang of madmen dedicated to banging their heads on the wall even as their minds surfed the cosmos, accompanied by a killer light show and an infamous nude go-go dancer.
Blue Cheer, Vincebus Eruptum (Mercury): Mangling Eddie Cochran and Mose Allison with gleeful, noisy abandon, this San Francisco combo was managed by acid chemist Augustus Owsley Stanley, who brewed a special batch of his finest and named it in their honor.
Deep Purple, Machinehead (Warner Bros.): "Smoke on the Water"! "Highway Star"! "Space Truckin"! Cosmic skronk n stomp at its absolute catchiest.
Blue Öyster Cult, Workshop of the Telescopes (Sony): A suitably hefty two-disc compilation of the tuneful pseudo-metal psychonauts. The men behind "Dont Fear the Reaper" were often decried as too smart for their own good (they hung with people like Patti Smith and rock critic Richard Meltzer), but remember: They also gave us "Godzilla."
SOURCES FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
Required reading for stoner-rock aficionados are the spirited and well-written webzines Roadburn (http://www.xs4all.nl/~roadburn/frames.html) and Stoner Rock Rules (http://www.freeweb.org/freeweb/StonerRockRules/), both of which emanate from Europe. Guitar tabs for the likes of Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, and sHEAVY can be found online at many sights, including http://desider.8m.com/desertrock/tab.html, while http://www.meteorcity.com/ is an online record store devoted to heavy psychedelic rock. There are also numerous newsgroups where the music is discussed; one of the most enthusiastic can be found at http://www.egroups.com/community/stonerrock.
(Originally published in Guitar World, 2000)