For a time, Kyuss were arguably the coolest rock band in the world. Metallica and Faith No More took the Palm Desert, California band on tour, and Nirvana's Dave Grohl (later Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl) swears he bought “at least 50 copies” of their 1992 album Blues For The Red Sun to share his love for the band with friends. Asked to define his band during a Canadian TV interview in 1992, guitarist Josh Homme settled on the description, "a fully escapist trip band."
"No politics, no bullshit, no funky costumes," he stated. "We just play music so you can shut your eyes and forget about all your problems."
Three years later however, Kyuss succumbed to their own internal problems - the group dynamic was "fucked", Homme later said bluntly - and broke up.
"We were young kids, boys becoming men, and so the music business was a shocking, strange, foreign, dark and scary place," drummer Brant Bjork subsequently told this writer. "Business started to dictate what we were doing, and the spirit of creativity and camaraderie and brotherhood – all that made our band pure and organic – started to evaporate."
In the wake of split, Josh Homme was of a mind to quit the music industry, and, after relocating to Seattle, he enrolled at the University of Washington to study business. But, inevitably, he was drawn back into the game, first joining Screaming Trees as their touring guitarist for Lollapalooza 1996 - an experience that would prove educational in more ways than one - then, after moving back home to California, founding a new project, Gamma Ray, with assistance from Screaming Trees Van Connor and Masters Of Reality frontman Chris Goss. When German power metal band Gamma Ray stepped in to stop the band trading under their name, Homme's new band became Queens Of The Stone Age. Starting over afresh, he admitted, "made me scared, cautious and bold at the same time."
It would have been all too easy for Homme to re-emerge into the spotlight - or, more accurately the one bare bulb underground rock community - with an album which built upon the cult success that his former band had enjoyed. Instead, he took a left turn, eschewing stoner rock fuzz for something altogether lither, more abstract and sexier. In doing so, he set the foundations for what is undeniably one of the most distinctive catalogues in modern music.
From its opening moments – the pounding one chord riff augmented with teasing, trebly guitar volume swells which introduces Regular John – Queens Of The Stone Age, the band's debut album, released on September 22, 1998, offers a new vocabulary for rock ‘n’ roll. When it emerged on Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s Loosegroove label it sounded fresh, visceral and original, the work of a rock band like no other, which was entirely the point.
Though it didn’t drop from a clear blue sky (the influence of The Stooges is immediately apparent, as is the forceful Motorik drive imported from Krautrock heroes Can and Neu!) Homme’s desire to fashion rock music “heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls” ensure that the album has an altogether more feminine sensibility than most modern rock releases, not least in Homme’s decidedly un-macho vocals and in the swing imparted by Alfredo Hernadez’s drums.
"I wanted to do something for girls," Homme told The Guardian. "The way I thought about it was trance robot music for girls. I wasn't interested in the guys at all. I wanted to make something that girls could dance to that really had a freedom that Kyuss didn't. By the end, Kyuss felt restrictive. I'd lived my whole life in Kyuss since I was a boy, and we had all these rules that were based on what you couldn't do. And I wanted a new set of rules based on what you could."
The opening tracks on Homme's new declaration of independence could hardly be stronger. Regular John, an unsettling tale of obsession and dark desires, is all insistent, propulsive groove, Avon – originally recorded with Monster Magnet’s John Paul McBain and Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd for the third release in Homme’s Desert Sessions series – builds and climbs on a stepped Led Zeppelin-esque riff, and the tambourine-heavy If Only – with its conscious echoes of The Stooges I Wanna be Your Dog – is a stripped-back tale of love gone askew.
From this elevated platform, Homme sprawls out in different directions, from the lo-fi rumble of How To Handle A Rope through the hazy narcotic surrealism of Mexicola and its depiction of a world “full of shit and gasoline” to the bouncing, off-kilter swing of the instrumental Hispanic Impressions. Perhaps most striking of all is You Can’t Quit Me Baby, a song which inverts the title of Willie Dixon’s blues classic (later re-interpreted by Led Zeppelin on their debut album), and develops into a dark stalker fantasy (“Followed you home, crawled in your window, This life is a trip when you’re psycho in love”) while simultaneously skewering fragile male egos.
For other bands, a collection of this quality might well be be a career high, but in truth, as brilliant as it is, Queens Of The Stone Age isn’t even in the top three QOTSA albums. That this is the case speaks highly to Josh Homme’s restless, inquisitive spirit and his constant desire to re-mould and evolve his band’s sound. But as debut albums go, Queens Of The Stone Age is commanding and bold, both a razing of the past and a signpost pointing towards new horizons. As such, 25 years on, it still sounds like the beginning of something very special.