Stoner / Sludge Metal

Stoner rock, also known as Stoner Metal or Stoner Doom, is a rock music fusion genre that combines elements of doom metal with psychedelic rock and acid rock. The genre emerged during the early 1990s and was pioneered foremost by Kyuss and Sleep.

Stoner rock is typically slow-to-mid tempo and features a heavily distorted, groove-laden bass-heavy sound, melodic vocals, and “retro” production. Due to the similarities between stoner and sludge metal, there is often a crossover between the two genres. This hybrid has traits of both styles but generally lacks stoner metal’s laid-back atmosphere and its usage of psychedelia.

Bands such as Weedeater, High on Fire and Electric Wizard creatively fuse both styles.

The descriptor “stoner rock” may originate from the title of the 1997 Roadrunner Records compilation Burn One Up! Music for Stoners. Desert rock is also used interchangeably as a descriptor and was coined by a MeteorCity Records intern around the time the label released the 1998 stoner rock compilation Welcome to MeteorCity. However, not all stoner rock bands would fall under the descriptor of “desert rock”, since bands under this subgenre tend to include more hard rock characteristics.

Cannabis’s influence on the genre

A cannabis plant
The involvement of cannabis in creating “stoner rock/metal” can range among bands in the genre. Bands such as Sleep have involved the concept of cannabis to be part of the core of their albums and songs. The consumption of cannabis is common in the live performances of some stoner rock/metal bands, and bands such as Electric Wizard are known to have concerts with the band members and the crowd participating in smoking cannabis. Dopesmoker (previously Jerusalem) by Sleep received controversy because the 60-minute song is about cannabis, which resulted in conflict with Sleep’s record company.
Some members of the genre state that “stoner rock is a style, not life,” which is interpreted as the band members not participating in smoking cannabis or being influenced by cannabis. However, their music style reflects the sound of “stoner rock/metal.” Bands like King Caravan and Sea of Green agree with this statement. Similarly, Matt Pike from the band High on Fire stated, “It’s a very strong scene, but I don’t think any of the stoner rock bands want to be labelled as stoner rock … I might use the word ‘stoner’ in my lyrics, but I think we’re Metal, dude. I’d say I was crossover metal, actually, or progressive metal. It’s a tough thing to lump into a category, but I guess we get the stoner-rock label because of the whole pot thing.”

In June 2000, Josh Homme’s new project, Queens of the Stone Age, released their breakthrough album Rated R, which helped bring the stoner rock sound into the mainstream despite the band themselves rejecting both the genre and being labelled as such.

Songs for the Deaf, their next release in 2002, included a single from the album peaking at No. 1 on the US Modern Rock Tracks. Another label focusing on the international stoner rock scene was Small Stone Records, which released a number of compilation albums of stoner rock bands doing covers of 1970s music, including Right in the Nuts: A Tribute to Aerosmith (2000), Sucking the 70’s (2002), and Sucking the 70’s – Back in the Saddle Again (2006).

In 2002, the Orquesta del Desierto was formed, featuring key members of the major desert rock bands, and released two albums.

In 2009, the magazines Decibel and Terrorizer released issues featuring a list of the 100 greatest and most important albums of the 2000s, respectively. The stoner band Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone was featured on both lists, being placed 10th on Decibel’s list and 1st on the Terrorizer’s.

Since Kyuss’ break-up, the success of the bandmates’ other projects has caused the Kyuss back catalog to become more widely listened to, and their fanbase has inevitably swelled. The sound has been continued on by directly descendant bands Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano, Mondo Generator, Fu Manchu, Brant Bjork and the Bros, and at times by Queens of the Stone Age, who have since largely departed from Kyuss’ stoner rock sound, and reject the label, preferring the term “desert rock”.

The European scene: stoner rock and beyond
As acknowledged by Dave Wyndorf, the lead singer of Monster Magnet, in a 2015 interview: “Europe is really good for psychedelic music.” So much so that some US stoner rock bands will even choose to tour Europe rather than North America. Founded by a French aficionado of stoner rock, the website has been a big promoter of the stoner rock scene in Europe and internationally. Stoner rock bands in Europe, much like their North American counterparts, mix elements of heavy rock music with psychedelia and Acid rock. The influence of Black Sabbath or Blue Cheer can be heard – among other examples – in bands such as the Swedish Graveyard and the German Kadavar. Instrumental stoner rock bands such as Karma to Burn are rare in the US.