Top 5: Stoner Metal

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My good old Honda motorcycle is pretty reliable, if a bit beaten-up-looking, but it does need its regular tune-ups almost as much as its owner needs his sit-ups. When I dropped it off at the shop yesterday, the guys there had a classic album from Monster Magnet on the stereo, a band who, along with Kyuss and Sleep, basically invented stoner metal, a sludgy genre inspired by both ’60s psychedelia and ’70s hard rock. I haven’t been anywhere near weed in, like, 15 years (I know Jonathan Stein doesn’t believe me, but it’s true!) and yet I still love the music’s combination of rumbling weight and melodic complexity; here’s five classic tracks to zone out to from the genre’s mid-’90s heyday. They’re enjoyable even if you’re not on the, er, Pineapple Express.

1. Kyuss – “Molten Universe” (from Blues for the Red Sun, 1993)
A classic from the band that spawned Queens of the Stone Age, the whole album is revelatory, but this instrumental number showcases the intricate playing by Josh Homme on a guitar apparently tuned down two octaves for even more sludgy goodness.

2. Monster Magnet – “Pill Shovel” (from Spine of God, 1992)
While the New Jersey combo may have devolved into Rob Zombie-like self-parodies in their later years, back before their rock radio hits they made 30-minute jams and put sci-fi weirdness on their album covers. This track’s a little more straightforward, but still features thick reverb and menacing Eastern tones.

3. Clutch – “Spacegrass” (from Clutch, 1995)
Clutch have as much in common with prog-metal bands like Primus as they do with Kyuss, willing to leave out the drums for a whole verse and then scream their heads off in the chorus, but the sludgy groove keeps them firmly on Earth.

4. Sleep – “Dragonaut” (from Sleep’s Holy Mountain, 1995)
One of the great underappreciated bands of the era, Sleep formed in San Jose and set their sights on Black Sabbath, but their weed-addled brains got a little lost. On “Dragonaut,” they let the gloomy grooves evolve at a languid pace, although they would eventually push patience to the extreme with a 50-minute song. That, my friends, must have been some good pot.

5. Fu Manchu – “Asphalt Risin'” (from In Search Of…, 1995)
This SoCal band evidences a little more of the stoner stereotype: inconsistency and a tendency to devolve towards in-joke kookiness. When they hold it together, though, they sound awesome: the guitar lines in the chorus seem pulled down by their own weight.


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