Queens Of The Stone Age

On this scorching debut, guitarist-singer Josh Homme — who formerly led Kyuss, a band revered among young stoners — joins with bassist Nick Oliveri and drummer Alfredo Hernandez to create a new turn in the saga of Pacific Northwest hard rock. They've found a vital place between art-metal seriousness and pop pleasure. It begins right away with the trancelike "Regular John," a track that layers Homme's yelping guitar accents over a fuzzy groove. While other metalheads play around with sequencers, Queens of the Stone Age have something a little more heated and classical in mind.

The rest of the album charges on with its compelling contrasts between Homme's papery vocals and the surrounding rampage. Sometimes the songs explore pure heaviness, as on the wall-rattling "Walkin' on the Sidewalks." But more often they thrillingly toy with elements like vocal hooks ("You Would Know") and metal frenzy ("How to Handle a Rope") without giving in to either. Toward the end of the album, on "You Can't Quit Me Baby," the band just jams, Hernandez's drums suddenly airier and sky high in the mix and Homme's otherwise introverted vocals reduced to moans. Minimalist? Yes. Dry? Hardly — here is a sound that sticks to your ears like Memphis in August.