Great Divide

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First there was Kyuss: the original desert-cum-stoner rock band that virtually defined this important underground movement of the early '90s, only to disintegrate before reaping their just rewards, leaving hundreds of orphan followers and artists as living proof of their influence. Then there were offshoots: guitarist Josh Homme launched his Queens of the Stone Age with original Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri and latter-day drummer Alfredo Hernandez, while vocalist John Garcia and bassist Scott Reeder set forth with Unida. Both bands released independent albums to close out the decade then parlayed their well-deserved acclaim into separate major-label deals. But whereas QOTSA quickly capitalized with a successful debut through Interscope, Unida became entangled in corporate reshuffling at American Recordings, and were summarily dropped, their fully recorded second album held for ransom and unilaterally condemned to musical purgatory by indifferent record executives. Luckily, pirate copies soon began trickling out of the vaults and into resourceful hands; by 2002 Unida's lost second album -- commonly titled "The Great Divide" -- could be found and downloaded from the web's illicit alley ways. And, best of all, for once the reality justified the hype, since its dozen-plus tracks (the actual sum and sequence will vary depending on where you bootleg it from) showed more maturity and variety than Unida's very strong, but stylistically predictable earlier work (including first album, Coping with the Urban Coyote). This was certainly the case for punchy new songs like "Hangman's Daughter," "Cain," and "Vince Fontaine," which were less steeped in standard stoner rock devices such as spacy flights, psychedelic head-nods and fuzz-distorted riffs (not to mention stoned out lyrics), and more approachable in a straightforward hard rock fashion. Even more of a departure was the dangerously melodic love song, "Slaylina," which nevertheless packed plenty of dynamic intensity and, like most of these tracks, opened up more space with its cleaner arrangements so that Garcia's stellar voice could soar through. And, not to be forgotten, even stoner rock purists who liked Unida just the way they were before could get their kicks from faster, amped up muscle cars like "Coffee Song" and "MFNO," as well as heavy ass groove machines like "Stray" and "Trouble." Ultimately, with this more accessible hard rock appeal bursting out of its (imaginary) grooves, it's really quite possible that Unida's unreleased opus could have been the one; that album capable of finally breaking the stoner rock genre wide open and legitimizing it with the mainstream (the quirky QOTSA had transformed into something else altogether by the time they went platinum). Reckless conjecture or not, you have to admit that the very prospect of this tragic, "stillborn album" scenario would be horrendously apropos given the stoner rock genre's star-crossed history...but of course we'll never know.