Kylesa – Ultraviolet
Label: Season of Mist
Release Date: May 24 (EU) / May 28, 2013 (NA)
The southern Georgian sludge metal scene of the United States has always interested me a great deal. The forerunners of this scene have in the past few years have never failed to produce albums that are very unique and versatile in the synthesis of their various, eclectic influences. All the while gaining moderate to favorable commercial success.
The average metal-head has surely heard of the likes of the mighty Mastodon, and the metal-head that has explored the realm of doom/stoner/sludge metal is also familiar with names from the aforementioned scene such as Baroness, Zoroaster, Torche and Black Tusk. Kylesa, too, is one of the bands that has heralded and pioneered a unique blend of traditional southern sludge metal and stoner rock over the span of their career which began at the turn of the new century. The Savannah, Georgia-based band has thus far put out five studio albums, with Ultraviolet being their sixth and latest offering.
The album kicks off with “Exhale”, a very in-your-face song which makes for a stellar opener. The bellowed vocals certainly throw light on the hardcore influences of the band, the vocals being very much in the vein of a typical hardcore/crust-punk vocal approach. There are moments where Phillip Cope presents rather impassioned vocal melodies, which form a perfect contrast to the chant-like vocals that give of an impression of angst, that are present throughout the song. The guitars are heavy, beefy and bludgeoning, and the bass guitar work by Eric Hernandez perfectly complements the guitars with its sloppily cumbersome quality. The song, despite being an opener already establishes the honest, attitude-driven ethos of stoner and sludge metal.
The second track, “Unspoken”, features some celestial, spacey instrumental work throwing light on the psychedelic influences of Kylesa. This song features the female vocalist/guitarist of the band, Laura Pleasants, who has a sassy yet Elysian vocal quality.
The next track, “Grounded” opens with incredibly enjoyable stoner riffing, backing a vocal harmony – the intertwining of the two vocalists further adds to the texture of the song(s). The guitars soon assume a doomy character, and are a direct nod to the elder Gods of doom à la Saint Vitus and Trouble. The song then switches to cheery stoner metal riff-work, complemented by Pleasants’ seraphic invocations. The fourth track of the album, “We’re Taking This”, presents a contrast to “Grounded” and features some angry and bitter riff work, and the vocals here too are appropriately crabby and cantankerous in the vein of “My War” era Black Flag.
“Long Gone” alternates between angry stoner riffage and ethereal psychedelic segments with sublime vocal melodies. The core of the Kylesa sound is still very much in tact here with pounding dual drum work. They use their two-drummer setup not to show off their skill with complex polyrhythms but to give those grooves even more heft and drive. The next track “What Does It Take” is a rather fast-paced song, and features some fairly subtle and impressive lead guitar work that perfectly complements the eccentric atmospheres.
The next two tracks, “Steady Breakdown” and “Low Tide” are sonically lambent songs, with the vocal’s being less attitude-driven, conveying this sense of honesty and angst that one can’t help but love. The bass work here is also admirable, plodding under some expressive lead guitar playing, unlike much of the rest of the album where it is drowned out by, or is going along with the rhythm guitars. The hypnotic, lazy delivery by Laura Pleasants on “Vulture’s Landing” add a nice touch and is a breath of fresh air in the overall ultra-heavy tone.
Track 10, “Quicksand” is certainly one of the standouts of the album, solely due its eccentric ambience and capricious song structure and the variation within the same. The album closer, “Drifting” is simply a masterpiece. Its title and lyrical themes are very much in conjunction with the feelings induced by the instrumentation, and impressions upon one in an effervescent, empyrean and almost spiritual manner. The track takes an unforeseen twist towards the end, becoming increasingly aggressive, with the song’s protagonist crying out about some misgiving that cannot be alleviated, and ends with a dizzy outro.
But seriously, whether or not you fit the mould of the current hipster aesthetic, the point is that Kylesa’s music is palatable to fans of various strands of heavy music. In terms of overall sound, their dirgy tuning and production is reminiscent of “Endtyme” era Cathedral with a touch of Kyuss. But interestingly, instead of their deep pool of influence leading to a sea overburdened with mind-numbing, nonsensical genre jumping, it’s been filtered through a rock music format that’s allowed Kylesa to hone their creations into non-pretentious, crisp, to-the-point and memorable songs. Phillip Cope is not exactly known to be a bastion of progressive music either way (see Cope’s Terrorizer interview).
In summation, like every other Kylesa full length, its greatness lies in interplay, whether it be that between punk, indie, and metal; between the gruff and noodly Pleasants and the simple-yet-effective co-guitarist/vocalist Phillip Cope; the gradually widening percussive canyon between Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry that only adds to the dynamic; or even that between being esoteric and acceptable. Thirteen years into an unbroken wave of revitalized and omnivorous metal bands, it feels almost ridiculous to have to keep saying this, but: If you’re not paying at least some attention to this stuff, you’re screwing up.
Note: Eric Hernandez has since switched to drums replacing Newberry. His spot has been filled by the able Chase Rudeseal.