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Kylesa - "Spiral Shadow" (CD)

Kylesa - "Spiral Shadow" CD cover image

"Spiral Shadow" track listing:

1. Tired Climb (3:23)
2. Cheating Synergy (2:54)
3. Drop Out (4:32)
4. Crowded Road (3:33)
5. Don't Look Back (3:23)
6. Distance Closing In (3:54)
7. To Forget (3:35)
8. Forsaken (3:44)
9. Spiral Shadow (5:16)
10. Back And Forth (2:35)
11. Dust (3:57)

Reviewed by on April 28, 2011

"Put this thing on headphones and be blown away at the individualistic cohesiveness."

Sludge-psychedelic metal operators Kylesa have always been one of those bands that seem to be a “nice to have” outfit. Hailing from Savannah, Georgia, their brand of psych-sludge metal played well across large swaths of metal fans – stoners in particular – but never seemed to explode like it was possible, with the uniqueness of having two drummers being their standout trait. Ask your metalhead friend about Kylesa and he’ll say “yeah, they’re pretty good,” which is neither a brutal bashing nor a soaring accolade. Well, that all gets shoved out the escape hatch with “Spiral Shadow.” Where Kylesa once played heavy and dense stoner psych/sludge, the band has expanded its songwriting, style, and production to create a true masterpiece.

The songwriting is the most immediate gainer. Kylesa’s metal used to be sludge jams with fuzzed-out and drop-tuned guitars rolling over murky polyrhythms and vocalists Phillip Cope’s and Laura Pleasants’ floating croons; only glimmers of light or expansion were had, mostly when the Pink Floyd stuff poked around. “Spiral Shadows” brings Kylesa’s metal out of the sludge-age with more than brief touches ranging from hardcore (“Tired Climb”), mid-1990s grunge (“Don’t Look Back”), some Pixies (“Dust”), guitar histrionics (“Cheating Synergy”), and post-metal loud-soft (“Drop Out”). Now instead of needing a whole tray of brownies and a beanbag chair, you can take “Spiral Shadow” to the beach, opera, or bus stop as easily as your local dive bar.

The elegantly produced package saves this from being an influence-mess. Phillip Cope, who also covers his share of the guitars and vocals, produced “Spiral Shadow” and captures Kylesa at the band’s heavy breathing best. Instead of the dirtier, more claustrophobic treatment sludge tends to get, Cope opts for an expansive setting here, with more space than an empty warehouse. The dual-drums, dual guitars, and Corey Barhorst’s bass all have plenty of elbow room, mixing together like friends at a party instead of the individually-tracked channel production Cope gave previous albums. The guitars and drums grind and roil together for power and separately for complexity, moving “Spiral Shadow” in and out of different brain spaces. Put this thing on headphones and be blown away at the individualistic cohesiveness.

And finally, the songwriting. Psych-sludge-post-whatever can get long, but Kylesa is focused, using all the different bits to highlight the sludge base and coax the rainbow beast out of his night-shelter in record time. Only two of the songs are over four minutes, and the eleven songs fly by in only 40 minutes total. At its most simplistic, “Spiral Shadow” is sludge metal – Kylesa never forgets that it plays heavy metal – with some surprising bits strewn about. But at its chest-beating best, “Spiral Shadow” is a hook-laden, next generation, and must-have heavy metal record.

Highs: “Distance Closing In” grows to a fantastic finish.

Lows: Maybe once or twice Kylesa doesn’t push quite hard enough on a high or low point.

Bottom line: Psych-sludge metal veterans expand their palette and create their masterpiece.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)