Whether you credit its lift-off in the Eighties with the arrival of Saint Vitus or Trouble or even Black Flag's My War side two, the true initial spark for the stoner-metal genre comes with those cough samples at the beginning of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf." Even though the leaf wasn't the only chemical inspiration in the Sabbath repertoire, it was the most lasting — one that inspired an entire cadre of dragonauts to follow in Ozzy and Co.'s sonic smoke trails and "drop out of life with bong in hand." Here Revolver celebrates some of the best stoner metal albums to emerge from the marriage of riff and weed, whether at the hands of the Birmingham gods themselves or a bunch of codeine-swilling rednecks from North Carolina. Below are 10 absolutely mandatory stoner-doom records.
And so it all began, with a tape loop of the riff lord himself, Tony Iommi, coughing from a joint he was toking with Ozzy Osbourne — maybe the most epic smoke sesh in the history of epic metal smoke seshes. What follows is a master class in stoner doom. Not just "Sweet Leaf," which the band recorded while actually stoned, but also "Children of the Grave" "Into the Void," "Lord of This World" — songs that saw Iommi downtuning one and a half steps to alleviate the pain of playing on his severed finger tips, but also to produce a "bigger, heavier sound." God, did he ever.
At the dawn of the Eighties, Los Angeles' heavy-music scene was dominated by raucous punk/hardcore/crossover and flashy hair metal. Wafting up through this histrionic mix were the slow Sabbath-worshipping sounds of doom pioneers Saint Vitus. After two records, singer Scott Reagers was replaced by Scott "Wino" Weinrich (of the Obsessed) for the band's 1986 high-water mark Born Too Late. The record's smoked-out vibes, fuzzy riffs and Thorazine-shuffle tempos (as well as Wino's retro-longhair look and stoner-biker poetry) weren't just a kiss of death for commercial success, they also blatantly flew in the face of everything deemed cool or trendy within the underground. But it was exactly Saint Vitus' authentic attitude and sound, which was perfectly distilled on Born Too Late, that ironically made them seem more punk than punk itself and earned them serious respect from a veritable who's who of tastemakers, from the Melvins and Nirvana to Fugazi and Black Flag.
Once Lee Dorian waved sayonara from grindcore originators Napalm Death, he traded in speed to join Cathedral and their much slower, doom-metal approach, inspired by fellow U.K. bands Witchfinder General and Candlemass, as well as stateside favorites such as Trouble and Saint Vitus. The first LP out of the gates was The Forest of Equilibrium — a revelation that combined the bluesy song structures architected by the aforementioned bands with a crushing guitar tone that was distinctly modern. Suddenly, what was old was new again, and Dorrian was back in the limelight with his new vehicle.
The Melvins can basically do whatever the fuck they want, including at times watershed stoner metal. As arguably the progenitors of sludge (not to mention grunge), they've written their fair share of weirdo-heavy steamrollers through their career, none better than 1991's Bullhead. Its ironic album cover doesn't give any warning of the heavyweight material on the record, which means that brutalizing cuts such as Buzz Osborne and Co.'s eight-and-a-half-minute slow-mo bong-rip "Boris" — which would give name to a certain trio of Japanese riffsmiths — hit the unsuspecting listener that much harder.
Welcome to Sky Valley, the third album from desert-stoner-rock crew Kyuss, is the sublime sound of four musicians indulging their prodigious riff (and drug) appetites to great effect. Take album opener, "Gardenia," as a case study: Vocalist John Garcia spins heady tales straight from the "Space Truckin'" playbook while future Queens of the Stone Age main man Josh Homme lays down some of the thickest, grooving guitar lines of the mid Nineties, under which the rhythm section of bassist Scott Reeder (formerly of East Coast doom act the Obsessed) and drummer Brant Bjork keep the swerving, spaced-out excursion from veering too far out of orbit. And that's just the start of this epic journey ...
On their classic debut album, NOLA, New Orleans supergroup Down — Pantera singer Phil Anselmo and a posse of his talented longtime friends from Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Eyehategod — dabble in a variety of musical styles, from hardcore punk to grunge to southern rock. But if you had to throw it all under one category, "stoner metal" would be a good call — not just because of NOLA's numerous Sabbathian riffs and head-nodding vibes, but also because songs like "Hail the Leaf" and, of course, "Bury Me in Smoke" — the album's closing death march through Sleep's "riff-filled land" — are weed-worshipping anthems bar none.
The album cover art alone could secure Dopethrone's spot on this list — an uber-kvlt black-and-white illustration of ol' Lucifer himself taking a mighty pull from a demonic bong, surrounded by a shadowy gallery. But that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg: Electric Wizard, then the trio of singer/guitarist Jus Osborn, bassist Tim Bagshaw and drummer Mark Greening, summoned an even more vivid devil in audio form with their feedback-soaked, swamp-pit-dredging hate-dirges. Steeped in drug addiction and alcoholism, the bandmates camped out in the studio, got fucked up and jammed themselves into oblivion. "We just wanted to make the most disgusting, foul, putrid record that anyone has ever recorded," Osborn told Kerrang! in 2009, and they may well have pulled it off.
No matter which version you're talking about, the Sleep composition "Dopesmoker" (alternately known as "Jerusalem" in a different, edited format) is the quintessential song for packing one up, lighting it and following the smoke trails to another world. Comprised of primarily one riff that deviates then returns to the source, the song/album is a drone-y, hour-long masterstroke that encourages the listener to get lost in it's circular format, only to hear that crushing riff come back again and again. It takes a special kind of riff to get away with for an hour on repeat, just like it takes a special type of stoner rock band to create the ambience and power behind such a landmark cut.
Though everything about the band screams "WEED" — from the name to some of the punny titles of their songs — Weedeater are a band that is entirely indiscriminate to any sort of drugs. Comprised of members of the legendary Buzzov*en, Weedeater's heavily cannibus-leaning content was eclipsed only by the band's love for cough syrup, which the group would sip out of a container duct-taped to the wall during live gigs. Regardless of what their actual chemical enhancement of choice was, the North Carolina trio knew their way around the riff, as evidenced by their short but perfect magnum opus God Luck and Good Speed.
Virginia's Windhand haven't been around for too long, but they've already established themselves as one of this decade's best at churning out hazy, hooky stoner metal. Soma has all the hallmarks of a great album for the canon: bludgeoning yet hummable riffs that take their time, intricate and memorable songwriting that leaves space for one to zone out. Best of all, in a subgenre where riffs can rule, they locate a real voice amid the lysergic, waking-dream atmosphere — frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell's vocals bring a spectral beauty that haunts the heaviness.