Album Review: Vista Chino - "Peace"

By this point, the saga of Kyuss has been fairly well reported. To tell the story fully would require a documentary film of appreciable length, a flowchart with Cliffs Notes and a very long afternoon. What began simply as the band that invented and molded desert metal became a long and drama-ragged tale of music and litigation.

The upshot is this: out of the ashes of short-lived revival Kyuss Lives! comes Vista Chino, spiritual successor to the original Kyuss and composed of that band’s co-founding members Brant Bjork, John Garcia and occasionally the enigmatic Nick Oliveri.

Even without the accompanying press release and annotated history, it’s pretty easy to determine that Vista Chino is at least related to Kyuss. Their debut record “Peace” is every bit a resuscitation of desert metal as we used to know it. It’s too easy a hole to fall into to say that Vista Chino’s music is ‘dry,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect to do so. “Peace” as a total work is parched, strung out and physically exhausting to listen to. In a rare twist, I mean all of those things as compliments.

The magic of the formula is the album’s single-minded pacing. Never given to a sprint and never confused for standing still, “Peace” grinds forward inevitably, one chord at a time. There are feelings of a massive construct being pushed into motion by a straining crew throughout the duration. Even a comparatively fast song like “Dargona Dargona” feels like the ungainly thrashings of a mammoth beast. The atmosphere of “Peace” is both undeniably well executed and idiomatically perfect.

What keeps the discipline of Vista Chino on track is the establishment of tone at the outset of each cut. There is always a pace car within the thick sound, and it can vary depending on the song. The guitar of “Planets 1 & 2” are the lead for that song, while the humming bass rhythms of “Mas Vino” lead to visions of a smoky underground club in the late forties. This all helps keep the controlled tempo intact from end to end.

Not altogether different from its cousins doom and stoner, desert metal sacrifices virtuosity in favor of reducing music down to its core elements, making notes that feel more like waves of imposition rather than strokes of a paintbrush. “Peace” is highly accomplished in this regard, producing the gritty power of “Dark and Lovely,” a song that sounds easy to replicate but is still mysteriously difficult to dissect.

The repetition of the same basic musical style that Kyuss began does raise a small red flag; is it possible that this genre has played itself out? Given the small number of bands making desert metal, the empirical answer may well be no. Yet the listener’s ear subconsciously asks for a little more once “Peace” is over. It may well be time for this brand to evolve and show something new. Nevertheless, these are not questions that Vista Chino is charged with answering, nor should they necessarily be asked to. The market for “Peace,” certain to be considerable, will dictate the genre’s ongoing value. Vista Chino rightfully is concentrating on making music, leaving ancillary considerations for others to ponder.

Kyuss fans rejoice, Vista Chino has produced an effort worthy of commendation in a genre they have long championed under different names. “Peace” is hypnotic, a swaying tree in a dry breeze, an album that shambles and lumbers but does not stumble. Worth the effort for long time fans or those who have never tasted the genre before.

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