Reunions can be wonderful things. Bands get to re-live the halcyon glory of days long past, riding a wave of rose-tinted nostalgia from critics who still wax lyrical about their seminal debut album some 20-odd years ago, and for fans who lap up the chance to see their heroes in the flesh and hear the old classics they know and love so well. New material is an added bonus, for often these reunited acts are content to let their existing body of work do the talking, and fear the criticism of a far more critical audience with shorter attention spans than those before. However, these glory-filled reunions can go badly wrong, as Vista Chino discovered recently.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, Vista Chino are otherwise known as Kyuss, beloved stoner-rock titans who split up in the mid 90s after releasing four seminal albums. When vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork resurrected the band in 2011, all seemed to be going swimmingly until former guitarist Josh Homme, now earning mega bucks in desert rock-lite mainstream act Queens Of The Stone Age and bassist Scott Reeder cried foul, issuing a cease-and-desist order, and forcing the band to adopt the Vista Chino moniker to avoid a costly lawsuit. Quite why Homme and Reader decided to throw their toys out of the pram is anyone’s guess, but their petulance hasn’t dented enthusiasm for what is essentially a new Kyuss album, called Peace (Napalm Records), in all but name, something fans have craved for many long years.
The short, shimmering soundscape of opening track ‘Good Morning Wasteland’ is the dawn breaking over 50 minutes of unbridled stoner nirvana, for as first track proper ‘Dargona Dragona’ commences its gritty, sand-coated riffage, we’re right back there in Sky Valley, soaking up the Blues from the Red Sun. New guitarist Bruno Fevery doesn’t attempt to ape Josh Homme’s playing, but in turn doesn’t fully impose his own personality, as the riffs and sun-kissed bursts of melody recall the good old days while simultaneously looks to the burning horizon.
Brant Bjork’s simple Bill Ward-influenced playing is a joy to hear again as his rhythmic fills and liberal use of the cymbals provide the perfect classic rock backing to Fevery’s fuzzed-out guitar lines. ‘Sweet Remain’ meanders along nicely before the slightly clunky ‘As You Wish’ weaves across the desert sand like a rattlesnake in no real hurry to go anywhere fast. ‘Planets 1 & 2’ will have long time fans in ecstasy as its clipped, jaunty riff and floaty melodies instantly calls to mind the likes of classics such as ‘100 Degrees.’ The pace slackens halfway through and throws the odd nod to the Bayou swamp of sludge, although Fevery’s wailing guitar seems unwilling to merely march along to doomier territories.
In case you were wondering. John Garcia sounds just as good as he ever did, his distinctive Southern croon lighting up the quirky melodies of the classic rock-driven ‘Adara’ like a torch through a desert sunset. He takes a break on the brief instrumental ‘Mas Vino’ allowing Nick Oliveri to show off his bass skills before returning in suitably languid style on the slow burning blues of ‘Dark & Lovely.’ However, be prepared to take a ride on the stoner train into infinity and beyond as the 13 minute ‘Acidize – The Gambling Moose’ not only attempts to win plaudits for oddest song-title of the year, but also for proving that desert rock is not just about burning heat and peyote as all four members of Vista Chino give it their all in a sustained effort. Melodies flow like tequila, riffs crunch like sand and Garcia’s voice soars like an eagle over the barren landscape.
Given that no other band of their ilk has ever come close to bettering the Kyuss sound, this was hardly ever likely to go wrong, and with the likes of Garcia and Bjork at the helm, Vista Chino are a blast from the past that are surely here to stay, and one that any self-respecting rock fan should thank his/her lucky stars for. Welcome back gentlemen!