KYLESA’S FORESEEABLY EXCELLENT SPIRAL SHADOW
Vince, you ignorant slut.
There are tons of bands that get tons of hype that is somewhat-to-completely unwarranted, especially now, considering that the dreaded Hipster Community seems to think metal is cool (do they still, or are they back to ironically appreciating Jefferson Starship or something?). On a list of said bands, I would put Kylesa so far down near the bottom that it would be impossible to tell if they actually appeared on the list or not to anyone except the person who put them there at all. To cut to the chase, I think the band are deserving of every bit of salivating praise thrown their way by the metal community (like, um, this writer did for their last album) as well as the crossover coverage they receive. Bands not pouring themselves into a template is something to behold nowadays, and Kylesa manage to take a filthy IPA-stained piss all over genre lines while simultaneously sounding exactly like they always do, even when they’re at their most experimental. They’re the sound of a band listening to a library’s worth of albums while at the same time just making music reflexively as to what’s playing in their heads. It’s both extremely calculated and extremely human and personal, as good metal — from Sabbath to Priest to Maiden to Mayhem to Nevermore to Portal to Neurosis to Enslaved ad infinitum — should be.
But, haters gon’ hate, I suppose. And haters, subsequently, gon’ hate Kylesa’s new album, the predictably magnificent Spiral Shadow, another choice slab of massive, sludgy riffs, punk/metal and male/female interplay, and brilliantly employed non-metal elements. You’re gonna hear a lot of verbose writers once again, for lack of a more eloquent term, be all on this band’s dick, but Kylesa manage to effectively play to both a metalhead’s primal instincts — the one that clamors for heaviness and horn-raising riff violence — and the more astute listener’s sense of compositional brilliance. Most great bands don’t make new albums solely to try and amass new fans, and Kylesa are certainly no exception. If you didn’t like them before, this certainly won’t change your mind. But if you’re a Kylesa fan and/or obsessive- – hey, guess which one I am! — Spiral Shadow is yet more ammunition to shrug your shoulders at detractors and insist that the band’s encyclopedic knowledge of the past gives us great hope for metal’s future. There’s a reason guys like me are so slavishly devoted to them.
That reason, to narrow it down from a few dozen, is that they’re so goddamn unpredictable. The band got GOOD good on 2006’s Time Will Fuse Its Worth, a collection of rambling psychedelic stoner-doom songs that, even when pushing the track lengths, still managed to hold one’s attention, even throwing a brilliant, anthemic single their audience’s way (see: “Hollow Severer”). They broke through with last year’s Static Tensions, an album chock full of singles of reasonable lengths, distilling the band’s power into its most palatable form yet. Spiral Shadow takes that compactness and uses it to reexamine the band’s dark side as well as broadening the definition of what they are. After months of gooey critical love in 2009, the band apparently suffered no “Where do we go from here?” insecurities and, instead, just fucking went there.
That being said, I won’t pretend that the album tops Static Tensions. It’s pretty much impossible to top that record’s great-song-after-great-song charm. Of course, this isn’t to say Spiral Shadow is in any way a disappointment. If anything, it’s a combination of Tensions‘ conciseness and Time Will Fuse…’s experimental leanings. As a front-to-back album, it’s probably the most consistent thing they’ve ever done. There are heavy and ecstatic peaks and contemplative valleys, not sounding pandering or self-indulgent, respectively, in either. Perhaps when isolated some songs sound better than others, but together, Spiral Shadow is pretty much unimpeachable. It finds drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry messing around outside the band’s usually subtle dual drum roles (check out the tribal back-and-forth on “Drop Out” or the militaristic break ¾ of the way through “Cheating Synergy”) and also Kylesa at their most poppy (the almost Torche-like “Don’t Look Back”) as well as their most vulnerable (lead guitarist/screamer Laura Pleasants, after a career’s worth of vague lyrical pronouncements, is surprisingly and effectively blunt on “To Forget”). Like other Kylesa records, they manage to cram quite a bit into one album without it sounding overstuffed. It’s as dense as it is epic.
But, like every other Kylesa full length, its greatness lies in interplay, whether it be that between punk, indie, and metal; between the gruff and noodly Pleasants and the simple-yet-effective co-guitarist/vocalist Phillip Cope; the gradually widening percussive canyon between McGinley and Newberry; or even that between being esoteric and acceptable. As we hear more and more music, it makes less and less sense to take a well-populated side and instead to take residence in the ample middle: who wants to hear another sludge metal or crust punk band when you can hear an amalgamation of the two, plus a whole lot more? While they could have understandably taken a few years to revel in the critical glow of Static Tensions, the band–in hindsight, not surprisingly — chose to keep pushing forward. Spiral Shadow is evidence that Kylesa are more concerned with making great music than collecting kind words. Let their non-fans tag them with the dreaded hipster metal label if they so desire. Sometimes the hype is to be believed, despite claims to the contrary. And with the track record they’ve created thus far, there will be much more well-warranted hype to come.
(4 out of 5 horns)