Kylesa – Spiral Shadow Album Review
Kylesa has always brought many of the same ingredients to the table that their fellow Georgian metaller brethren, Mastodon and Baroness, have. And yet, Kylesa has also been perceived, and perhaps rightfully so, as the warmup act to their peers’ headlining material – a good but not great alternative to change things up when you’ve just burned through your tenth copy of Crack the Skye.
But with Kylesa’s fifth album, Spiral Shadow, people are going to be forced to reevaluate their judgments on this band. I’m not going to come out and say that this surpasses anything their peers have put out, but it is a triumphant declaration that Kylesa deserves more than just second billing. If their last album, Static Tensions, wasn’t enough to convince you that this band deserves a spot amongst the stoner-metal titans of today (and I would argue that it should have been), then you will at least have a much harder time denying them after giving Spiral Shadow a chance.
On Spiral Shadow, Kylesa look to change things up just enough to keep from getting complacent. As is Kylesa’s style, this album is loaded with fuzzy, crusty guitar riffs augmented with a dazzling array of effects pedals and distortions, only this time there’s a bit more than usual. On the DVD that’s included with the special edition of the album, singer/guitarist/producer Phillip Cope gives a brief overview of just how many effects pedals they were working with, something eclipsing fifty I believe. But the band made sure to say that they had no interest in just geeking out on distortions and weird sound effects for the hell of it, and you can definitely tell that when listening to these songs. Everything is in its place. Nothing sounds extraneous; it’s all expertly crafted to sound seamless, which makes this music magnificently interesting when it could have easily been just another exercise in aimless experimentation.
I should also touch on the drumming. Kylesa, I believe, has been unfairly pegged as “that metal band with two drummers.” People focus on that fact because it’s a rarity. And that focus leads to more intense scrutiny. I don’t disagree with the critics who say that the two drummers, Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry, are one too many, or rather, that the second drummer doesn’t bring enough extra to the table. For the most part, that’s true. Kylesa has never really utilized the two drummer formation to create something drastically different than what you’d hear from a single drummer. But so what? The drums sound fantastic on this album, and if they want to split their income with an extra person, who am I to tell them they are wrong? What difference does it make if the drums were created by one guy or two? Everyone needs to keep in mind that the double-drummer choice is not a detriment. So there’s really nothing to complain about in that regard, right? And honestly, I do think they made more of an effort on Spiral Shadow to showcase the possibilities of this lineup, as the drums sound almost harmonized at times and they are noticeably meatier.
The songs on this album are full of the esoteric lyrics you’ve come to expect from this band. They’re more like poetry than lyrics. Everything is punctual and designed more as an emotional guide than a storytelling device. The track “Cheating Synergy” has nine lines of lyrics, with just one coming in at longer than three words (and that’s not an anomaly for the entire record). These lyrics are more incantations than direct statements. And more so on this album than any of their previous ones, singer/guitarist Laura Pleasants has taken on the bulk of the vocals with Cope serving as the counterpoint. Pleasants has an amazing, entrancing drone when she’s singing and a witch-like shriek when she’s screaming.
The prevailing theme on this record is distance and the notion that one is growing ever further from their youthful indiscretions while the distance between them and death never ceases to creep closer. There’s a heavy, pervading fear that springs from those ideas and you can hear the catharsis taking place throughout the album. “Don’t Look Back,” a massive Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” homage, is one such song to delve into that idea. Hands down, it was one of the best songs of 2010. And when Cope sings, “Pictures of my youth ask / If I’ve become what I wanted to,” you can tell, at least at this moment, he’s gotta be pretty pleased with who he and his band have become. “Keep moving don’t look back.”