Stoner Rock

What Makes Stoner Rock Unique? Exploring Desert Rock, Fuzz Rock, and Similar Genres


We’ve had some lively debates around Monster Riff while trying to nail down once and for all what Stoner Rock is. Yes, we’ve even started a series about it, but that doesn’t go quite far enough. For all the Wikipedia articles out there, we still find blurred lines between Stoner Rock, Desert Rock, Fuzz Rock, Stoner Metal, Doom Rock, and Sludge Metal.

We’re settling the score once and for all. So that we can continue having productive conversations without splitting hairs, we’re defining Stoner Rock and some of its closest sonic cousins.

Stoner Rock 

Definition: Stoner Rock is inspired heavily by the heavy riffs of Black Sabbath and the quick, frantic focus of Black Flag. There’s an emphasis on distortion, down-tuned guitars, massive riffs that are frequently repeated, groove, and a slow to medium tempo. In many cases, a Stoner Rock song is built around one or two meaty, catchy riffs that propel the song forward. Without these elements, you don’t have Stoner Rock.

Best examples:

  • Kyuss
  • Fu Manchu
  • Monster Magnet

Song Example: “Thumb” by Kyuss

“Thumb” is the opening track to Blues for the Red Sun, perhaps the most important Stoner Rock album of all time. Note the slow, deliberate tempo, the massive bass distortion, and the heavy riffs.

Desert Rock

Definition: For some, Stoner Rock and Desert Rock are synonymous, but that’s an oversimplification. Desert Rock is a sub-genre of Stoner Rock. Much of today’s classic Stoner Rock tracks were born in the desert—Palm Desert, California, to be exact. This is the same region that birthed groups and artists like Kyuss, Mondo Generator, Queens of the Stone Age, Brant Bjork and the Bros, Unida, Hermano, and more. Desert Rock is a term typically reserved for Stoner Rock that comes from this region. Another key differentiator: Thanks to Palm Desert’s proximity to Mexico, you’ll often hear hints of traditional Mexican and Spanish guitars.

Best examples:

  • Kyuss
  • Queens of the Stone Age
  • Karma to Burn

Song Example: “Regular John” by Queens of the Stone Age

As a popular band from the Desert Rock scene, many in the space are familiar with Queens of the Stone Age’s earlier work. In this song, play close attention to the thick layers of distortion and the incessant drums and guitar riffs.

Stoner Metal

Definition: Stoner Metal is best described as a faster, heavier version of Stoner Rock. Stoner Metal has darker overtones, and it frequently features elements of thrash and sludge. It’s not as melodic as Stoner Rock, but hey, Stoner Rock isn’t very melodic to begin with.

Best examples:

  • St. Vitus
  • Corrosion of Conformity
  • Melvins

Song Example: “Albatross” by Corrosion of Conformity

“Albatross” is a wonderful access point for Stoner Metal. Listen for the heavy riff running underneath the song, then find a bevy of licks piecing it all together. Like many Stoner Rock songs, “Albatross” places a heavier emphasis on the lead guitarist with solo heroics.

Doom Metal

Definition: Doom Metal is a less melodic version of Stoner Rock that exchanges groove for extra helpings of riff and distortion. Doom Metal often focus more jamming out to create a sonic landscape than delivering tight songs. While Doom Metal can be sludgy, it’s also occasionally theatrical or cinematic, as bands may mix in Gothic Metal and other influences.

Best examples:

  • We Hunt Buffalo
  • Sleep
  • Om
  • Electric Wizard

Song Example: “Heavy Low” by We Hunt Buffalo

We really should have put “Dopesmoker” in this slot, but we didn’t for two reasons: 1. We linked to our article on “Dopesmoker” above. 2. We’re major fans of this song by We Hunt Buffalo. Note the general sense of dread spewing from the instruments and vocals.

Fuzz Rock

Definition: Fuzz Rock contains many of the traditional Stoner Rock elements, but it rejects the “stoner” label. Fuzz Rock riffs are delivered through amps drenched in fuzz effects, and the song structure offers more opportunities for guitar solos inspired by ’70s Rock. You’ll also find a wider variety of tempos in Fuzz Rock albums.

Best examples:

  • Truckfighters
  • Witchrider
  • Astroqueen
  • Valley of the Sun

Song Example: “Hearts Aflame” by Valley of the Sun

Sludge Metal

Definition: Sludge Metal delivers slower, denser riffs than those you’ll find in Stoner Rock. And while Stoner Rock can be aggressive (think Kyuss on “Green Machine”), sexy (think 1000mods on “Big Beautiful”), and fun (think Fu Manchu on “Mongoose”), Sludge Metal brings a general sense of dread, foreboding, and depression. Thanks to the slow, dense riffs (occasionally divided by fast tempos), Sludge Metal is moody without ever slipping into Emo territory.

Best examples:

  • Electric Wizard
  • Down
  • Crowbar

Song Example: “Bury Me in Smoke” by Down

“Bury Me in Smoke”—like many Sludge Metal songs—is simultaneously catchy and abrasive. Notice the mixed tempos and the Doom and Punk influences.

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