Kylesa must be really, really tired of the Mastodon comparisons at this point. Though the two bands share some superficial similarities—both hail from Georgia and play sludgy-yet-modern metal—Kylesa approach their compositions from a completely different direction. Where Mastodon gird their riffage with prog-rock tinkering and epic pretenses, Kylesa have always gone directly for the throat, technical noodlings be damned. Considering that vocalist/guitarist Philip Cope (who along with fellow singer/guitarist Laura Pleasants is one of Kylesa’s surviving founders) did time in crust act Damad, his current band’s rawer aesthetic makes plenty of sense. That said, Kylesa has streamlined and cleaned up their sound significantly since the beginning of their career. Static Tensions, their latest, is certainly their most compact and disciplined effort to date. Fusing their rough’n’ready doom grooves with slight psychedelic rock undertones, Kylesa have served up a sizzling slab of earthy-yet-expansive metal along the lines of Zozobra, Torche or Big Business.
Much has been made of Kylesa’s dual-drummer lineup, which simultaneously hearkens to The Allman Brothers Band (yay!) and Slipknot (boo!). Personally, I don’t think either anology holds water. While drummers Carl McGinley and Eric Hernandez never play off each other as much as I’d like, they’re also not quite as redundant as they might at first appear. Aside from a few golden moments during which they layer beats atop each other (such as on the excellent “Said and Done”), the pair generate a deeper, more booming sound than any single drummer could generate. The effect is fairly subtle, but I suspect it’s quite a bit more punishing in the clubs and basements where Kylesa generally practice their trade. Even so, guitarist Cope’s rock-solid production manages to replicate something of the dual kits’ forceful presence.
But no amount of slammin’ drum tracking would make up for slack songwriting, and Kylesa have clearly put plenty of effort into crafting detailed but concise tunes here. Unlike so many sludge/doom bands, these guys and lady know the value of brevity—no track on Static Tensions breaches the six-minute mark, and most of the songs clock in around three or four minutes. This self-discipline definitely works in the band’s favor; each cut features recognizable musical landmarks, such as the incredibly malevolent riff-and-cymbal break in “Perception” or the sand-swept harmony in “Running Red.” The band has clearly gone out of their way to produce actual songs—Static Tensions never dissolves into a sea of interchangeable rhythm-section drubbings. Likewise, the band’s trippy leanings always serve the songwriting and rarely overstate themselves. We’re talking occasional spacey, effects-laden guitar detours and circular tom patterns, rather than lengthy Tool-style dives into acid freakout land, and the emphasis is still squarely on gutpunch riffage. If Kylesa has a clear weakness, it’s their lack of a commanding vocal presence (what is it with sludge bands and not having a real singer?). Though Cope and Pleasants’ delay-and-reverb-drenched yells and occasional harmonies never offend the ear, they’re too faceless and buried in the mix to ever add anything to the music.
Cope’s beefy production and some predictably sweet John Baizley (Baroness) cover art round out this impressive little package. Though Kylesa are hardly on the cutting edge in crafting slightly stoned doom-sludge, Static Tensions rocks as hard as you please and has depth, detail and replay value to spare. All in all, this disc constitutes an outstanding addition to the checkered Prosthetic Records catalog, and it’s more than worthy of your attention.
Time Will Fuse Its Worth
To Walk a Middle Course