How Kyuss Got Off to a False Start With ‘Wretch’
Although their career was brief, Kyuss are generally recognized these days as the ultimate stoner rock band. Their seminal sophomore album, Blues for the Red Sun flipped the world of heavy music upside down with its thunderous blend of metal, punk, psych and space metal, but it also overshadowed their 1991 debut Wretch, which has since become the runt of Kyuss recording litter.
To be fair, though, this fate comes not without reason as Wretch gave virtually no indication of the band's looming breakthrough. Except for vocalist John Garcia's distinctive voice, it almost sounds like the work of a different band, due largely in part to a production that wasn't just subpar, it was completely nonexistent.
As a result, the band's powerful onslaught was left sounding completely flattened, despite the blistering attack of songs like "(Beginning of What's About to Happen) Hwy 74," "Love Has Passed Me By," "Katzenjammer" and "Isolation." The apparent inexperience towards the inner workings of a recording studio also robbed slower, mega-grooved offerings like "Son of a Bitch," "The Law" and "Big Bikes" of all dynamics.
And these were the highlights, the tunes in which Kyuss' songwriting skills actually overcame these challenges to some degree. By comparison, most of Wretch's remaining cuts pretty much sounded like demos (e.g. "Black Widow," "Stage III"), and not very professional-sounding demos, at that.
But every band has to start somewhere, and so much of Kyuss' legacy goes hand in hand with their unlikely birthplace, deep in the California desert, which spelled both geographical and creative isolation in the pre-internet era. If not for this environment, it's highly unlikely the band would one day craft music capable of crossing over the musical cliques that were more firmly established in dense urban areas.
For example, though Kyuss' future audience would be comprised primarily of metal-heads, its members (still barely out of their teens, during Wretch's recording) identified more closely with their punk and hardcore influences -- not what drummer Brandt Bjork described as "his uncle's music" when asked about Black Sabbath in a 1992 interview.
In that same interview, guitarist Josh Homme explained, "That's what I was raised on: Black Flag, the Misfits, GBH [but] we were a little too young to go to their shows...and not get, like, killed or something," before rejecting the then-exploding grunge movement and its key bands for acting like they'd just invented rock and roll. "We're a bunch of punks playing rock music," concluded Bjork. "We couldn't be a metal band if we wanted to be."
Of course, as we now know, Kyuss would never have much control upon what fans and critics wanted them to be -- not least after their premature demise following two more widely acclaimed albums in 1994's Welcome to Sky Valley and 1995's ...And the Circus Leaves Town.
The four members' subsequent exploits with important post-stoner bands like Queens of the Stone Age (which featured Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri), Unida (John) and Che (Bjork) have certainly vindicated their talent. But, again, all that had to start somewhere, and that was the flawed, but clearly very crucial, Wretch.
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