posted on 11/2010 By:
Some bands, like some trends, experience distinct tipping points. They’ll refine their basic formula on album after album until it suddenly works, even though nothing major has changed. For Kylesa, the tipping point has finally arrived.
Because of their geographic origin (Savannah, GA) and basic musical palette (psychedelia-tinted sludge), Kylesa is often lumped in with Mastodon, Baroness, Rwake, and the like. But Kylesa comes from a hardcore punk background, and Spiral Shadow makes it clear just how different they are from their region’s more popular acts.
For one thing, Kylesa does not indulge in the prog-rock sprawl that characterizes (and, arguably, cripples) Mastodon and their ilk. Spiral Shadows features only two songs longer than four minutes, and none longer than six. The tracks frequently break into ringing noisescapes or two-drummer rhythm jams, but each detour is executed with a sense of economy and restraint. And each song ultimately relies on Kylesa’s bread and butter: big, low-slung power chords and muscular grooves.
None of these features are new to the band, and Spiral Shadow cuts a profile generally similar to that of its predecessor, Static Tensions. Kylesa has merely rearranged their pieces in such a way that better highlights their strengths and protects their weaknesses. The songs are less riff-oriented and more song-like—they’re looser, simpler, and warmer. They’re more punk and less metal, or at least, more rock and less metal.
That’s not to say that Kylesa has turned into Torche. But this material features a brighter, more melodic bent than past Kylesa albums, due at least in part to Phil Cope (who provided Spiral Shadow's impeccable production) and Laura Pleasants’ improved vocal approach. This band still suffers from its lack of a truly charismatic singer, but at least the guitar duo has found a style that works for them. Each sings more than shouts now, and their newfound proficiency with vocal layering produces some instantly infectious choruses (“Drop Out,” “Don’t Look Back”).
Spiral Shadow falls off noticeably for a stretch of its second half, but overall, this album is the most distinctive and impressive Kylesa material to date. After years of labor, this band has finally released a disc that fulfills their potential, and it’s time to start thinking of them as one of the genuine forerunners of their scene. And, if we’re lucky, they’ll follow their own advice: “Keep moving / don’t look back."
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