|Cultural origins||Early 1990s, California|
|Palm Desert Scene|
Stoner rock or stoner metal is a musical subgenre which combines elements of heavy metal, psychedelic rock, blues rock, acid rock, and doom metal. The term desert rock is often used interchangeably with the term "stoner rock" to describe this genre; however, not all stoner rock bands would fall under the descriptor of "desert rock." Stoner rock is typically slow-to-mid tempo and features a heavily distorted, groove laden bass-heavy sound, melodic vocals, and "retro" production. The genre emerged during the early 1990s and was pioneered foremost by the Californian bands Kyuss and Sleep.
The descriptor "stoner rock" may originate from the title of the 1997 Roadrunner Records compilation Burn One Up! Music for Stoners. Desert rock is also used interchangeably as a descriptor, and was coined by a MeteorCity Records intern, around the time the label released the 1998 stoner rock compilation Welcome to MeteorCity.
Due to the similarities between stoner and sludge metal, there is often a crossover between the two genres. This hybrid has traits of both styles, but generally lacks stoner metal's sometimes uplifting atmosphere and its usage of psychedelia. Bands such as Weedeater, High on Fire and Electric Wizard creatively fuse both styles.
Like most subgenres of music, the origins of stoner rock are hard to trace and pinpoint. Nevertheless, stoner rock has its known progenitors and signature songs that helped shape the genre. Blue Cheer is considered one of the pioneers of the style, as Allmusic author, Greg Prato, put it, "When talks about 'stoner rock' come up, one band that tends to get overlooked is Blue Cheer." According to critic Mark Deming, the band's first album, Vincebus Eruptum, "is a glorious celebration of rock & roll primitivism run through enough Marshall amps to deafen an army"; not so far from the heaviness of MC5's Kick Out the Jams and the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat.
Rolling Stone claims, "What stoner rock delivers, slowed down and magnified, is the riff, the persistent legacy of Mississippi blues. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were the first to make a monolith of it." Sir Lord Baltimore have been called "the godfathers of stoner rock" and Leaf Hound have been cited for influencing countless bands in the stoner rock movement including Kyuss and Monster Magnet. Primevil's album Smokin' Bats at Campton's has been called a "touchstone" of stoner rock. Jim DeRogatis has said that stoner rock bands are "reaching back for inspiration to the psychedelic, proto-metallic jamming of bands like Cream, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Hawkwind." According to DeRogatis, the roots of stoner rock can be heard on Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, Hawkwind's 25 Years On 1973–1977 box set, the aforementioned Blue Cheer's album, Deep Purple's Machine Head and Blue Öyster Cult's Workshop of the Telescopes. Black Sabbath's Master of Reality is often cited as the first album of the genre. Martin Popoff stated: "When Sweet Leaf kicks in, one witnesses simultaneously the invention of stoner rock".
Allmusic summarizes this fusion as follows:
"Stoner metal bands updated the long, mind-bending jams and ultra-heavy riffs of bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Blue Öyster Cult, and Hawkwind by filtering their psychedelia-tinged metal and acid rock through the buzzing sound of early Sub Pop–style grunge."
However, Josh Homme and John Garcia of the seminal stoner rock band Kyuss shrugged the heavy metal influence, and instead cite punk rock and hardcore punk, particular the sludgy hardcore of Black Flag's album My War.
Early development (late 1980s–1990s)
Releasing their first album in 1988, Soundgarden have been called the standard-bearers of stoner rock during the 1990s. In 1990, the doom metal band Trouble introduced a lot of acid rock elements in its self-titled album, which were even more present in 1992's Manic Frustration, and in 1991 British band Cathedral released its debut album Forest of Equilibrium, featuring a stoner/doom metal style. During the early–mid-1990s, a number of Californian bands developed the style that would be called stoner rock.
In 1992, Kyuss emerged from the Palm Desert Scene with Blues for the Red Sun. Critics have hailed it as "a major milestone in heavy music," while NME described their music as an attempt to figuratively melt "a hundredweight of hot desert sand into metal". In 1992, San Jose doom metallers Sleep released their album Sleep's Holy Mountain. It became a favourite of the heavy metal press and the band was heralded, along with Kyuss, as leaders of the emerging stoner scene. These two bands were the first to introduce a "trippy" groove to their doom-influenced sound. During the same year, New Jersey's Monster Magnet released their debut album Spine of God, which displayed fewer metal influences but was psychedelic and sludgy, in the vein of their Californian peers. In 1994, San Francisco's Acid King and Britain's Acrimony released their debut albums, both of which adopted this psychedelic approach to doom metal. Other bands from this era include Fu Manchu, Clutch, Sons of Otis and Corrosion of Conformity.
Middle years (1995–1999)
Kyuss broke up in 1995, with many of the members going on to form new projects with stoner rock traits. In 1997, Roadrunner Records released the stoner rock compilation Burn One Up! Music for Stoners, which included tracks by bands such as Fu Manchu, Celestial Season, The Heads, and notably a track by a new band named Queens of the Stone Age, which included former Kyuss member Josh Homme. In August 1997, Josh Homme founded The Desert Sessions in Joshua Tree, California. The Desert Sessions are a musical collective series, and the first rendition included members from Monster Magnet, Goatsnake, earthlings?, Kyuss, and Soundgarden. The result of the session was Volume 1: Instrumental Driving Music for Felons. Over the years, artists such as Brant Bjork, PJ Harvey, Dean Ween and many others from the Palm Desert scene have contributed as songwriters and musicians. In September 1997 in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
Jadd Shickler (of stoner band Spiritu) and Aaron Emmel founded the online store called All That's Heavy, which sold hard-to-find releases of Kyuss, Monster Magnet, and Fu Manchu. They soon expanded the catalog to include artists that stylistically fit with the first three bands. After half a year they were contacted by the former proprietor for the first Kyuss fan website, who recommended All That's Heavy do a compilation of unsigned bands that Kyuss fans would enjoy. The result of the suggestion was the formation of MeteorCity Records and the release of the compilation Welcome to MeteorCity, which was released in May 1998. The compilation included established desert and stoner rock acts, including new bands established by John Garcia of Kyuss, Ed Mundell of Monster Magnet, and Pete Stahl of Goatsnake. The album was the first time that the new stoner rock bands Sixty Watt Shaman, Lowrider, The Atomic Bitchwax, Dozer, Goatsnake, Drag Pack, and Los Natas were heard on a record. According to MeteorCity founders,
"When this was happening, there wasn't really a [stoner rock] scene yet, there were just a lot of people around the world who were still sad about the end of Kyuss, as well as the end of Slo Burn, and who listened to stuff like Monster Magnet and Fu Manchu but wanted more. The label took off when we appeared with Welcome to Meteor City, as though the world was waiting for someone to do what we were doing."
The label soon signed a number of musicians and bands from the Palm Desert Scene of desert rock, such as Hermano and Unida, both featuring former Kyuss frontman John Garcia. Swedish stoner rock bands such as Lowrider, Dozer and The Mushroom River Band were also signed to MeteorCity and exported.
The Atomic Bitchwax which features Monster Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell, and The Hidden Hand and Spirit Caravan and led by Obsessed/Saint Vitus guitarist Scott "Wino" Weinreich began to gain in popularity. As the scene continued to develop, the popular website StonerRock.com was launched in 1999. The website became a central community hub for heavy music artists and fans.
Mainstream exposure (2000–present)
In June 2000, Josh Homme's new project Queens of the Stone Age released their breakthrough album Rated R, which helped bring the stoner rock sound into the mainstream, despite the band themselves rejecting both the genre and their being labelled as such. Songs for the Deaf, their next release in 2002, cemented the genre's popularity, with a single from the album peaking at No. 1 on the US Modern Rock Tracks. Another label focusing on the international stoner rock scene was Small Stone Records, which released a number of compilation albums of stoner rock bands doing covers of 1970s music, including Right in the Nuts: A Tribute to Aerosmith (2000), Sucking the 70's (2002), and Sucking the 70's – Back in the Saddle Again (2006).
In 2002, the Orquesta del Desierto was formed featuring key members of the major desert rock bands, and released two albums.
In 2009, the magazines Decibel and Terrorizer released issues featuring a list of the 100 greatest and most important albums of the 2000s, respectively. The stoner band Electric Wizard's Dopethrone was featured on both lists, being placed 10th on Decibel's list and 1st on the Terrorizer's one.
Since Kyuss' break-up, the success of the bandmates' other projects has caused the Kyuss back catalogue to become more widely listened to and their fanbase has inevitably swelled. The sound has been continued on by directly descendant bands Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano, Mondo Generator, Fu Manchu, Brant Bjork and the Bros, and at times by Queens of the Stone Age, who have since largely departed from Kyuss' stoner rock sound, and reject the label, preferring the term "desert rock".
- Palm Desert Scene
- Doom metal
- Sludge metal
- Stoner sludge
- Psychedelic rock
- Acid rock
- Drone metal
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