by Todd K. Smith

Just exactly where are we in the current phenomenon of Stoner Rock? The tag has been around for a couple of years, passed on in an effort to describe Monster Magnet, Nebula, Fu Manchu and Queens Of The Stone Age. Catchwords like ‘Fuzz’ or ‘Wooly’ are often used as sound descriptions, and the current trend is staggering. Unquestionably the birth of Stoner Rock began with Black Sabbath trudging along in the mire of dark lyrics and power riffs. Hawkwind were probably next as thick metal migrated into a progressive universe. Several years later bands like Chicago’s Trouble and later L.A.’s Kyuss dropped anchor in the same sea of doom.

By the 90s the medium took on a new generation. Record labels like The Music Cartel and Man’s Ruin started showcasing a younger set of durge fiends, which included Orange Goblin, Sheavy, Leadfoot, and High On Fire. All of which pay pure homage to the great God of Feedback. In our quest for the definitive green-leafed, hash-dazed tripsters we came across the following key releases of 2000.

High On Fire: Artist Frank Kozik is the pioneer behind much of the current Stoner movement. His poster art has single handedly revitalized the San Francisco Pop Art scene and he looks to do the same with his quickly expanding record label, Man’s Ruin. Fu Manch, Hellacopters, and Alabama Thunder Pussy have each attained substantial notoriety under his tutelage. High On Fire is the current starchild having just been featured in Rolling Stone and claiming national attention for their The Art of Self Defense CD. The record packs every ounce of blood and muscle into its six tracks. For a three-piece, they build an enormous wall of haze that nearly obliterates the vocal. "Midway Through Baghdad", the lead in track, the guitar is joined by the dense chug of the rhythm section as a continuous layer that never stops. All six tracks off the long player are ripe with power-groove.

Queens of the Stone Age: After a successful run with this year’s Ozzfest, the bastard child of Kyuss is shedding its independent status for a glorified run on a major. R-Rated, the band’s Island debut, bring them directly into the mainstream. "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" is already filling the local airwaves. Though less fuzz than their previous two outings, ‘R’ keeps affection with the genre moist with "Feel Good Hit of the Summer", "Better Living Through Chemistry", and "Monster In The Parasol". "Auto Pilot" is a delight.

Orange Goblin first struck our fancy with last year’s Time Travelling Blues, and continues to crank up the volume on "Scorpionica", "Hot Magic", "Red Planet", and "King Of The Hornets". The Goblin has done their share of Sabbath homework. They pay tribute by wearing their influences proudly on their sleeves with a heavy shift to a more melodic presentation as the bass moving closer to center. Also spoon-fed on War Pigs and Paranoid, vocalist Steve Hennessey does his best to imitate his idol, Ozzy. A Utopian Interlude is a sidestep into instrumental land leaving the door wide open for riff giants "Stingray Part II" and "At the Mountains of Madness".

Fu Manchu are proving that they are indeed King of the Road and have written the central masterpiece of their six-record career. "Hell On Wheels", the title track, and "Boogie Van", lock in with a hypnotizing groove sure to warp minds and kick ass.