Rock History

Passing the Stoner Rock Torch: A Brief History of the Biggest Names in the Stoner Rock Kingdom (And Who’s Up Next for the Throne)

Stoner Rock was ignited by Black Sabbath in the 1970s, but it wasn't until the 1990s that it was properly pioneered by Kyuss and their sonic cousins.

Stoner Rock. Desert Rock. Fuzz Rock. Whatever you want to call it, it’s beautiful, and the name doesn’t matter. To quote the Bard: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

What does matter is how we’ve got here. On the surface, Stoner Rock is a tiny arena of musicians, but there’s a massive crowd inside once you pass through the doors. Over the decades, the genre has had multiple kings. Today, we look at how those thrones were won—and who’s up next to take the genre’s top spot.

The Birth of Stoner Rock: Black Sabbath

By the time Black Sabbath released Master of Reality in 1971, the band had already taken the U.K. by storm. The band’s eponymous 1970 LP opened with rain, thunder, and church bells—an ominous introduction to the doom, metal, and blues to come. Paranoid smoothed out the cracks, gifting the world household tunes in the form of “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and “Iron Man.” 

And then came Master of Reality. It was undeniably Black Sabbath—the droning guitars were tuned down and Ozzy Osbourne’s lackadaisical vocals were front and center—but opening track “Sweet Leaf” gave birth to a new, formerly unexplored direction. The iconic riff gave birth to Stoner Rock, and not just because the love song was to marijuana. 

Welcome to “Sweet Leaf”: The grandfather to Stoner Rock.

Following Master of Reality, there were many imitators. But there were few bands who could harness the same sound at the same quality. The bands who endured from this era—Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple—they all took their rock and metal in different directions. It would be years before someone properly took the Stoner Rock torch and held it high and proud. 

Stoner Rock Lives Again: Kyuss

Thirty years later and more than 5,000 miles away in Palm Desert, California, four kids released a largely forgettable album named Wretch. Wretch proved to be a warm-up for Kyuss, as they released Blues for the Red Sun the following year. Blues for the Red Sun opened with mystery. A quiet drone fills the air, and then a soft guitar picks over the airwaves. The drone builds behind the strings, eventually erupting into a drum-laden gallop. 

“Thumb”—the opening track to Blues for the Red Sun. An immediate Stoner Rock classic.

It was heavy. It was energetic. It was Sabbath 30 years later. It was Stoner Rock, reborn. Still teenagers, Kyuss toured Blues for the Red Sun up and down the desert roads, cementing their status as metal heavyweights. Desert Rock had been born, and it was alive and well.

If there was ever any doubt to their status, Welcome to Sky Valley showed the full extent of their abilities as songwriters, pumping energy and melody into each riff. But the party was short-lived as the young bandmates wrestled over creative control. Kyuss released …And the Circus Leaves Town in 1995, and, as the name would suggest, the band pulled up their stakes and called it quits—without the same effort found in Blues for the Red Sun and Welcome to Sky Valley

Still, the band left an indelible mark on the music industry—and in only four short years. Kyuss’s legacy isn’t only thanks to two excellent, influential albums, however. Its members would go on to guide many other successful projects, including Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures, Unida, Hermano, and Slo Burn. 

Stoner Rock Gods in the 21st Century: Truckfighters

Stoner Rock lived on after Kyuss, supported by bands like Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet. But there were few who could rise to the same godfather status. And then, in 2005, a Swedish band by the name of Truckfighters put out a seven-minute and thirty-second song called “Desert Cruiser.”

“Desert Cruiser”: Drenched in fuzz and iced with a crystal guitar lick.

Desert Rock was back, and it was stronger than ever. 

Truckfighters understood the three basic elements of Stoner Rock: a great riff, mid-tempo pacing, and massive distortion. So, they built Desert Cruiser (and the rest of Gravity X) on a catchy mid-tempo riff, then drenched the entire production in fuzz. Gravity X was Kyuss—it even contained many of the desert references inherent in Desert Rock—but it was undeniably unique. Gravity X reached for something beyond itself, and it found its muse out there in the ether. 

The band’s biggest claim to fame is a solid ace of spades: In their 2011 documentary Fuzzomentary, Queens of the Stone Age frontman and Kyuss alum says Truckfighters is the greatest band that’s ever existed. (Unfortunately for them, Homme later said in an interview with Nardwuar that he was wasted during the clip and didn’t remember anything—and he’d never even heard the band before.)

Whether he meant it or not didn’t matter. Truckfighters went on to release four more impeccable albums after Gravity X, each one dripping in fuzz and pushing the bands sound even further while always staying true to their Stoner Rock roots. By the time the members disbanded in 2018, those in the Stoner Rock know counted themselves lucky to catch the band while it was still rocking. 

Monster Riff’s Prediction: Valley of the Sun Will Take the Throne

If you’ve never heard of Valley of the Sun before, get ready: You’re going to spend the rest of the day digging through their catalog. As a teaser, here’s “Riding the Dunes”—a name that screams Desert Rock:

Valley of the Sun is the nickname for the Phoenix metropolitan area, but the band itself calls Cincinnati, OH, home. Valley of the Sun’s second EP, The Sayings of the Seers is only 25 minutes long, but it’s 25 minutes of pure Stoner Rock bliss. The EP opens on “Heart’s Aflame,” a ballsy opener with a riff that grabs you by the throat. Nineteen minutes later, the band carries you away on “Riding the Dunes.” (If you haven’t listened to it yet, play it in the link above!)

The Sayings of the Seers goes grossly overlooked in the Stoner Rock scene. It rarely pops up in conversation (but then again, neither does Stoner Rock). Here’s the problem: The Sayings of the Seers is a rare treat. It’s proof that a band doesn’t need a full album to be effective, and it demonstrates how a dedication to a solid riff and excellent vocals can spellbind listeners. 

2014’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk expanded the bands sonic palette considerably, with tracks like “As Earth and Moon,” “Gunslinger,” and “Centaur Rodeo” proving the band knew their way around microphones and guitars alike. 

If The Sayings of the Seers and Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk weren’t enough to convince Monster Riff that Valley of the Sun was something special, 2016’s Volume Rock certainly forced us to pay attention. 

2019’s Old Gods showed the band’s staying power and creative ingenuity. While tracks like “All We Are” and “Firewalker” charge headfirst in the band’s patented Stoner Rock fury, “Gaia Creates,” “Buddha Transcends,” and “Dreams of Sands” skillfully incorporate Eastern influences—the kinds you’d find throughout bands like My Sleeping Karma of the Samsara Blues Experiment. With these new directions in place, Valley of the Sun expanded their sonic pallet, giving themselves more freedom to move around in their next album.

“Means the Same” is sonic proof Valley of the Sun can gallop forward at a ferocious pace.

Valley of the Sun’s biggest hurdle to the Stoner Rock throne is exposure. The trio has yet to break into the Stoner Rock spotlight—but that’s not a death knell. Valley of the Sun tours regularly, and the Stoner Rock fandom is a supportive bunch. Once you hear Valley of the Sun in action, you know.

Check Out The Passing of the Stoner Rock Torch on Spotify

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