Kylesa’s journey has been an interesting one. The Savannah, Ga., band started off much heavier and scuzzier, playing crusty, punishing metal that hinted at sludge, and they seemed to be a band that wanted to seize you and beat you into submission with their fury and dual vocal approach that sounded like two very upset people yelling in each of your ears.
But, as bands that accumulate experience are wont to do, they changed their sound slowly and calculatingly. They never left their punk or metal roots behind, but they did add more Southern rock sweat, psychedelic wailing, and melody to their sound, and over the last few albums, they morphed into an entirely new beast. Their teeth are sharper, they know how to swipe at prey even better, and lo and behold, their profile swelled as they became a pretty well-known band in extreme metal circles. But these alterations and changes came about organically and never sounded like something they forced on themselves, plus they managed to strengthen their songwriting chops to create some of the most adventurous material of their career on 2010’s impressive “Spiral Shadow.”
Three years later, after many miles have been traveled, hundreds of shows have been played, and from the sounds of it, much hurt has been encountered, Kylesa return again with “Ultraviolet,” their sixth record and second since aligning with French metal giants Season of Mist. Sure enough, their growth continues as they expand their sound even further, and there are times on this record where one can question whether the band is truly metal through and through, which would be dumb argument to have because who cares? The music continues to get dreamier and trippier, the heavier parts burst with melody, and the band itself exudes confidence even when expressing pain and dealing with situations that left them scarred.
The heart of Kylesa remains dual guitarists and vocalists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope, who long have been the mouthpieces and guiding forces behind this band. Along with them are bassist Chase Rudeseal, and drummers Carl McGinley and Eric Hernandez. As usual, the band sounds tight, though as you’ll notice going through this record that they’re aiming less for heaviness and more for melody and dreamy simmering. It’s a pretty natural progression from “Spiral Shadow” to “Ultraviolet,” so depending on how you felt about the direction on that record, this will either be really good or really bad news. I like the direction they’re going, and they sound at home. I wouldn’t call “Ultraviolet” a home run by any means, but it’s a damn steady stand-up double. You can’t discount those.
The album actually begins a little unsteady with “Exhale,” a song that sounds like a traditional Kylesa song, with Pleasant and Cope taking turn shouting back the lines, allowing room for a lot of give and take between the two. Problem is the song sounds a little forced, like they had to make a typical Kylesa song, and that causes the album to open with a minor thud. But then “Unspoken” hits, and things look up in a hurry, with strong, buzzing guitar grooves, a nice hazy atmosphere, and Pleasants turning in some of her best singing to date. That momentum continues into “Grounded,” that opens with a damn tasty Southern rock-style swagger, spacious weirdness, and enough trippiness to keep you chilled as they go for it. “We’re Taking This” finds Kylesa turning in a heavy metallic jam that really resonates, as Pleasants’ anger when screaming the words, “What goes around comes back around!” makes it seem like venom is spewing from her mouth, through your speakers, into your face. Wouldn’t want to be the person who inspired this song. “Long Gone” has a desert, sunburnt feel to it, and while it has its punch and its crunch, its melody also lets you trance out and ride on the waves of its simmering soloing.
“What Does It Take” has a neat shimmer to it, and while it’s faster and more aggressive, it’s equally poppy and approachable, with Cope delivering smoother vocals and wondering, “Is this really happening?” “Steady Breakdown” delves into ’90s college rock, though it also has some elements of doom, and Pleasants shows even more range in her singing, going on like she’s a lost Deal sister. “Low Tide” hints back to “What Does It Take,” a more approachable rock song, and I sometimes have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two. “Low” isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t the best one on here. “Vultures Landing” brings some of the sludge and heaviness back, and it has some of the best guitar work on the whole record, filled with psychedelic wonder and atmosphere. “Quicksand” is a quick burst that seems like it’s going to be an interlude at first but actually gets filled out with fun vocals and a pushy tempo. “Drifting” is your closer, and like the opener, it falls a little flat. It has an airy mid-tempo pace for the most part, though it charges up a bit as it goes on, with some tough shouting from Pleasants, but it kind of peters out sans drama. It’s not a bad song, but it isn’t really doesn’t leave the best lasting memory.
“Ultraviolet” is a pretty decent sixth record from the band, albeit not their best chapter yet. I appreciate the band’s development, and they seem capable of making a really great record with this approach. This isn’t that record, but if the next one is the blowaway effort, we’ll look at “Ultraviolet” as the steppingstone to get there.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.kylesa.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://e-shop.season-of-mist.com/en
For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/