Music

Kylesa: Spiral Shadow

Photo: Geoff L. Johnson

The Savannah, Georgia band has been improving greatly with each release, but, on its fifth album, Kylesa has outdone itself.


Kylesa

Spiral Shadow

Label: Season of Mist
US Release Date: 2010-10-26
UK Release Date: 2010-10-25
Artist Website
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Right before Kylesa's breakthrough fourth album Static Tensions was released, guitarist Phillip Cope was already thinking ahead. Although he and his bandmates had every right to rest on their laurels thanks to a record that was far and away the best thing the Savannah, Georgia band had ever put out, Cope was already preoccupied with ideas of how he could top that album. The fact was, after an extended formative period in which Kylesa had slowly found its own sound, Static Tensions hinted that the band was on the cusp of a significant creative streak, something which was not lost on the musicians. With a brand new record deal with burgeoning global metal giant Season of Mist and bent on making an even better album than before, the band wasted no time returning to the studio. So although this much-anticipated follow-up has come out in the following calendar year after Static Tensions, the fact is that the new record Spiral Shadow has been in the works for well over a year and a half.

Static Tensions had Kylesa raising the bar like many people had been hoping the band would do, but Spiral Shadow is the stronger of the two albums, although it isn't the revelation the previous record was. Kylesa has completely come into its own, and the confidence the group exudes on the new disc is remarkable. Interestingly, there have been no real dramatic changes in their music, as songwriters Cope and guitarist Laura Pleasants continue to serve up an even balance of Southern sludge and psychedelic rock. However, the one big difference this time around is their willingness to open up their sound just enough to allow subtle influences outside of metal to creep into their music, which in turn makes their music sound all the more original, not to mention accessible.

If anything, for all the heavy riffs and hazy guitar jams, there's also a strong undercurrent of early-'90s indie rock running through the entire record. It's a very appealing package, and anyone who obsessed over American indie 16, 20 years ago will be able to pinpoint various influences creeping in: Archers of Loaf, a little Grifters, some Silkworm, a tiny bit of Built to Spill, and, in the case of "Don't Look Back", a healthy dose of the Pixies. But don't fret, "true" metal purists, those outside influences do not for a second come at the expense of the heaviness of the album. This is still one ferocious record. The riffs remain massive ("Tired Climb" is particularly explosive), and the band continues to utilize the dual drummer set-up to powerful effect. But if there's one aspect that separates Spiral Shadow from the rest of the Kylesa discography, it's the band's newfound mastery of dynamics. It's not a full-on blast of dense metal anymore; instead, the music breathes, the melodies are a lot stronger, and the songs are concise, never lingering longer than they have to. The improved songwriting in turn gives Pleasants the freedom to try new things as a singer, and she steals the show on "To Forget" and the moody title track, displaying more range than many of us thought she had.

In addition, Cope's production is greatly improved. Whereas Static Tensions hard-panned the percussion to the left and right, leaving the guitars and vocals in a rather muddy clump in the middle, Cope creates much more space on Spiral Shadow, allowing the percussion, guitars, and vocals to interweave with surprising grace. As a result, it's a tremendous "headphones" record, far from the usual merciless, over-compressed sonic assaults that pass for modern metal production these days. Kylesa is a resolutely old-fashioned band, and its dedication to everything from improving its songwriting to offering its fans a proper full album experience that includes clever art design (the artwork by Santos is stunning) is a big reason why the group is starting to distance itself from its metal peers more with each release. These perennial up-and-comers are now operating at an elite level. Welcome to the upper tier of American metal, kids.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.