Rock History

The Link Between Stoner Rock and Punk Rock: Why Black Flag Was Just as Influential as Black Sabbath

Stoner Rock is often linked back to Black Sabbath—and rightfully so. Black Sabbath’s massive, gloomy riffs on Black Sabbath and Paranoid set the template for the future of Doom and Stoner Rock (even if it took 20 years or so for other bands to really hone in on the sound). 

So, sure, Black Sabbath was extremely influential. A more contemporary influence, however, is Punk Rock. Started in the same era as Black Sabbath, Punk Rock was faster, louder, brasher, and distinctively different from Black Sabbath’s Bluesier roots. 

Still, bands like Black Flag have been remarkable important in the history of Stoner Rock and similar subgenres, offering new sounds and structures to Rock’s underground. 

Stoner Rock and Punk Rock: The Kyuss Connection

The Stoner Rock godfathers of Kyuss are the genre’s clearest connections to Punk Rock. The band’s earliest conception—a 1987 outfit called Katzenjammer—was a Punk Rock-influenced Heavy Metal group, though the band would have likely shunned any sort of label. 

“To be honest, I don’t really give two shits about punk rock,” former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme told Spin in 2003. “I carry the flag for no genre and no scene. Let’s destroy all that.” Labels or no labels, Kyuss band members frequently stated they were more Punk than Heavy Metal. According to Louder Sound, John Homme insisted they were more influenced by bands like Black Flag than Black Sabbath. 

Former Kyuss drummer (and Stoner Rock legend) Brant Bjork supported this claim. “[…] I don’t have anything against heavy metal, but I thought Kyuss was a punk band.” In a separate interview, Bjork laid the connection between Punk and Stoner even clearer, saying that Stoner Rock is what happens when you give a bunch of Punk Rockers weed. 

Looking at Kyuss’s earlier work, it’s easy to see the Punk Rock influences. Flipping through their 1991 album, Wretch, we can pull multiple tracks with obvious Punk Rock connections. “Isolation,” “Deadly Kiss,” and “Katzenjammer” all have the same ferocious speed and breakneck guitars and drums of classic Punk Rock songs—though the anti-establishment lyrical themes are missing from John Garcia’s delivery.

Stoner Rock and Punk Rock: The Songwriting Connection

Digging beyond Kyuss, the connections remain—especially in the songwriting. Yes, there are many differences between the tempo. Punk Rock tends to be fast (think “Rise Above” by Black Flag) and Stoner Rock is often slow- or mid-tempo (look at “Funeralopolis” by Electric Wizard or “Dragonaut” by Sleep). 

But when you tear the songs down and look at their insides, the similarities are glaring. Both tend to be relatively simple in their structure, with a heavy focus on repetition. Stoner Rock is notorious for exploiting a single riff for minutes on end, and Punk Rock is often written with only two or three chord changes for an entire song.

In addition, both genres tend to be relatively easy to play after you’ve mastered the technical nuances of each instrument. Again, this is partially due to the relatively simple nature and repetition found within each genre. Once you have the tuning right, for example, Stoner Rock is pretty easy to play on guitar (look at classics like “Desert Cruiser” or “Iron Man”)—until you drift in the complex worlds of bands like King Buffalo or Valkyrie. There’s a similar narrative in Punk Rock. Once you learn to play quickly, the songs are generally rather simple. 

Punk Rock in Stoner Rock Today

You can still find Punk Rock’s influence among some of today’s biggest Stoner Rock and Stoner Rock-esque bands. 

Here are a few examples:

1. “Wings of Fang” by Red Fang

Red Fang’s signature sound is a unique blend of Stoner Rock, Punk Rock, Thrash Metal, and other genres. In “Wings of Fang,” their Punk Rock tendencies are especially prominent.

2. “I Never Sleep” by Mondo Generator

Mondo Generator’s frontman, Nick Oliveri, has been influential in bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Vista Chino, the Dwarves, and others.

3. “Quick and to the Pointless” by Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age has been heavily influential across multiple genres, thanks in part to a revolving musician lineup and frontman Josh Homme’s songwriting.

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