Label: Season of Mist
from Savannah Georgia
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Kylesa is one of the standout bands in "heavy" rock today, and the more they keep at their craft, the more refined and evolved their sound becomes. “Heavy” in this case means powerful, gritty and dark guitar riffs that assault yet soothe; the kind that burrow into your brain and mesmerize at the same time, so you don't notice them drilling through your grey matter. Because of this and several other factors involved, drifting into trance-like states when listening to their songs is not an uncommon reaction. One thing you need to know is that like many great bands that have stuck around for a decade or more, Kylesa defies convention, categorization and they are constantly evolving. This individualism, among other places, can also be found as an ongoing theme in the lyrics of Kylesa’s two core, founding members, Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants, who share songwriting duties and often delve into the existential, frequently touching on a person’s inevitable race against time and death and search for meaning outside of the confines of society. Some people neatly define Kylsesa as “sludge” metal. This simple tag does the band no justice; nor would any other.
Those who know Kylesa have come to expect the unexpected from this band, and its newest and sixth full-length release, the 11-track Ultraviolet (Season of Mist), is on a different level than any of the previous five full lengths. On Ultraviolet, the band covers new territory with a different and finessed approach and the listener can enjoy it woven throughout every track. As you might expect, Ultraviolet is a very “heavy” recording, and the edge was not worn down on this album, but other elements that Kylesa draws on seem more prevalent than before. Cope and Pleasants’ amazing psychedelic-blues guitar riffs and solos are more pronounced, as are the space-rock elements that so characterize this band. They include ancient techniques like spooky tri-tone chanting and tribal-sounding drums on the droned-out fifth song “Long Gone,” and the transcendental underwater textured guitar work on the second track, “Unspoken.” It's no mistake that the two covers that Kylesa is best known for are “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” both by Pink Floyd in its experimental early days. Pleasants sings more lead vocals on Ultraviolet than on any other release, a trend that has chronologically increased with each recording, and she sounds both ethereal and haunting. Cope’s increasing range and use of vocal style have progressed into something more abstract yet appealing. “Low Tide,” for example, is like nothing this band has ever released. With Cope on vocals, the song, number eight on Ultraviolet, is a slow-paced darkly melodic tune that sounds like it came straight from rainy Manchester in the 1980s. The lyrics, however, give the track the Kylesa stamp, a hopeless world with a dash of individual triumph: “Let’s hang for awhile/And watch the world die/On the last day we are all alive.”
Another possible shocker for longtime fans could be “Quicksand,” Ultraviolet’s tenth offering. Not only is it relatively melodic for a band known for down-tuning its guitars, but Pleasants’ vocals sound vaguely poppy and happy as she is singing over a whirlwind of sound, almost as if she is smiling. The lyrics paint a different picture of what is really happening. “Then I knew I was shedding more than bone/Trying to tell you/But I’m choking on my own blood/This dream repeats/I’m coughing up my own blood.” She makes the retelling of her dream sound more like a fairy-tale than the nightmare it must have been.
Like all Kylesa efforts, many of the songs on Ultraviolet feel epic, even on tracks that don’t surpass four minutes. A large part of this has to do with Cope’s production and engineering work, which has included other album sessions with Baroness, Black Tusk, Dark Castle and many more notable acts. With assistance from Jay Matheson (at The Jam Room Recording Studio in Columbia, SC, where the work was recorded), the production on this album comes out sounding as lush and textured as a rain forest. On Kylesa’s previous, critically acclaimed full-length, 2010’s Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist), Cope achieved a kind of heftier “wall of sound” production that was not as prevalent on all of their previous efforts. Ultraviolet continues in this vein, and the results are even more powerful.
Throughout Kylesa’s career there have been some constants. When the band is at its best, the result is loud, thick and often complex. The lyrics explore darker sides of what it means to be alive and the futile race against the bleak unknown that happens after that, with the occasional glimmer of hope and transcendence. These things are not likely to change. But another thing that won’t change is that Kylesa will most definitely keep changing, if the accomplishment of Ultraviolet serves as a future road-map for the band. As Pleasants said in a 2009 video interview while on tour for Static Tensions: “We’re one of those bands that progress with every release.” One has to wonder if she or Cope knew at the time how far that progression would go in only a few years
|Laura Pleasants||guitar / vocals||2001-present|
|Philip Cope||guitar / vocals||2001-present|