Kylesa’s metamorphosis over the past ten years has been an absolute pleasure to witness from afar. The Savannah, Georgia sludge troupe emerged at the early stages of the last decade full of the same piss-and-vinegar as their fellow DIY bands that were fighting it out in dives and squats spreading their take on crust-punk, hardcore and sludge to anyone brave enough to listen. Much like their Georgian brethren in Mastodon and Baroness, Kylesa then traveled away from the outright assault of their early releases by incorporating diverse inspirations into their sonic union of EyeHateGod, Neurosis, Black Flag, Nausea and the Melvins—influences which fed the roots of 2002’s Kylesa, 2005’s To Walk a Middle Course and 2006’s appropriately titled, Time Will Fuse Its Worth.
The core song-writing duo of Laura Pleasants (guitars/vocals) and Phillip Cope (guitars/vocals) have continued to lead Kylesa’s charge, and their intrepid experimental streak widened the band’s musical horizons exponentially on 2009’s Static Tension and 2010’s Spiral Shadow; infusing these LPs with dashes of Floydian progressive rock,‘90s alternative rock (Archers of Loaf, the Pixies, and heavy lashings of blazing psychedelia that owe more to Hawkwind and Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band than their past stimuli. These experimentations, including the deft use of two, dueling drummers who dole out disparate rhythms that complement each other before coming together to bludgeon in unison, have been total artistic victories for Kylesa, and have made the band a distinct entity.
Now that Kylesa have found individuality, expectations are running high ahead of the band’s sixth studio album; which is set to drop in 2013. Questions remain unanswered at this time: Will the band increase the prominent alternative rock influence that made “Don’t Look Back” from Spiral Shadow such a blissful anthem? Will the lysergic excursions fully take over, with Kylesa disappearing down the psychedelic rabbit hole once and for all? Or will the band return to the Neolithic pillaging of their early days? The odds are Kylesa will probably maintain a balance between these three possibilities, but for those itching with anticipation to discover what the next album will contain, Kylesa has gifted the curious—as well as the completist—a compilation album to tide them over until the “Year of the Snake”.
According to Cope (who also produced the band’s recent records), deep consideration has gone into the sequencing of From the Vaults, Vol.1, in an attempt to make the compilation flow like one of Kylesa’s LPs. This collection, which has been described by the band as “a labour of love”, combines previously unreleased tracks, reinterpretations of older tracks, covers, and one new creation written exclusively for this compilation. And the result, like the majority of releases in this style, is an underwhelming record that contains a couple of standouts, some interesting additions, as well as quite a few unnecessary inclusions that do not contribute in the slightest.
From the Vaults, Vol.1 begins with a 57-second intro that is too short and indistinct to accomplish anything, and ends with a tribal drum battle—recorded around the time of Static Tension, between then drummer (now bassist) Eric Hernandez and his partner in poundage, Carl McGinley—that, despite the interplay between each drummer being imaginative, is ultimately filler material. The same criticism can be leveled at “Bass Salts” which is a bluesy, effect-laden bass solo that amounts to another disposable segue piece—“(Anaesthesia) Pulling Teeth” this is not.
Of the alternative versions of older tracks: “111 Degree Heat Index”, “Between Silence and Sound II”, and “Bottom Line II”, Kylesa’s reworking of “Between Silence and Sound II” from the album Time Will Fuse Its Worth is by far the most vital: the hellion scream of Laura Pleasants sounding more feral than the original version, and the hidden psychedelia of its earlier incarnation is magnified in line with Kylesa’s later work. The EP only, “111 Degree Heat Index”, and To Walk a Middle Course‘s “Bottom Line II” interestingly hark back to Kylesa’s crust punk origins, and the addition of these songs may be beneficial to those unfamiliar with Kylesa’s past work, but in the context of being heralded as reworked and re-recorded tracks, these songs contain few differences when compared to the originals, except for slight tempo and tuning variations. Elsewhere, the previously unreleased/unfinished: “Inverse”, “Paranoid Tempo”, and “Wavering”, only amount to curio inclusions for fans intrigued to find out what kind of material Kylesa had left locked away in their vaults. The real value, however, comes from the new track “End Truth” and the covers of Buzzov•en’s “Drained” and Pink Floyd’s monumental epic, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.
“End Truth” will be the song that fans—in their quest to hear what new music from Kylesa currently sounds like—will head for first. The song itself is indicative of the sounds explored on Spiral Shadow; treading the line between experimental and accessible all within the space of four and a half minutes, with a definite post-punk feel found in Cope’s detached vocal delivery, comparable in part to Joy Division’s tortured soul, Ian Curtis. The choice of Buzzov•en and Pink Floyd as two bands that Kylesa feel comfortable covering makes complete sense—Buzzov•en being the forgotten forebears of sludge metal, who have been a major influence in the first half of Kylesa’s existence, while the unmistakable Pink Floyd have been presented as a spiritual father in Kylesa’s latter work. And Kylesa do both “Drained” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” the justice these songs deserve, and the inclusion of these covers almost justifies the purchase price alone.
However, as mentioned, the disappointing filler and the “reworkings” of previously available songs dampen the worth of this compilation, and as a consequence, its replay value is left running low. Because of this, From The Vaults, Vol.1 is not essential listening. Conversely, this release does nothing to stain or tarnish the ever-growing importance of one of the most expressive and exciting metal bands in existence today. Those unfamiliar with the works of Kylesa would be better off to experience the full-force of their psych and sludge collision—as heard on the band’s later studio albums—and leave From the Vaults, Vol.1 resting in the hands of the curious and the completist.