Spiral Shadow

Ironic that the cover of Kylesa’s new disc is so monochromatic, given all of the color the band has just added to its sound. The past’s last album, Static Tensions (only a year ago), was a tight blend of terse, punchy hardcore and grumbling sludge; with Spiral Shadow, the band has embraced a whole new psychedelic dimension, full of chiming guitars, blooming drone and tribal drumming. Suppose this shouldn’t be a big surprise, given that the band hails from the same Georgia scene as Mastodon and Baroness, both of whom have also blended trippy prog-rock textures into their stomp and groove. Must be something in the water.

The first few tracks of Spiral Shadow feature one discovery and surprise after another. “Tired Climb” starts with spacey effects and Eastern strings, then explodes into a lunging attack fueled by Philip Cope’s hoarse, youthful and energetic bark. And then, in the chorus, co-vocalist Laura Pleasants takes over with a gossamer-soft ‘60s psych-rock croon. Given that Kylesa’s sound is more limber than lumbering, the addition of breezy psychedelic textures works really well, and makes for a more satisfying and dynamic blend than Baroness’ laidback, drifting approach.

Follow-up “Cheating Synergy” is even better, adding a scintillating and almost sci-fi warble to the guitars in the song’s transcendent midsection. Probably my favorite moment on the entire disc, and it’s exhilarating just how playful and creative Kylesa has become since the comparatively dry Static Tensions. Two tracks later, “Crowded Road” takes that same ethereal energy and funnels it into a spectral march full of tribal drums and keening feedback. Kylesa is famously backed by two drummers, and although I sometimes have trouble distinguishing just how each drummer’s work layers into the other (many times it appears they’re simply playing the same thing, for double the impact), it’s most interesting when they dive into these kinds of shamanic, roiling passages.

With track five, “Don’t Look Back,” things mutate again. This time, the surprises come from bright, almost hopeful melodies added to a mid-tempo strut. It’s not quite as cheery as the pop-screamo end of the post-hardcore spectrum, but it’s definitely a step towards the sunlight, which is odd for this genre. Unfortunately, I find it kind of a mood-shattering misstep.

The next four tracks retreat back into sludge and shadow, with any added brightness coming from the psychedelic elements which drift through like strands of colored smoke. Laura Pleasants handles vocal duties on three of these four tracks, including the excellent, serpentine title track. Once again, the contrast of her silky sigh against the more sullen, chunky textures is a compelling contrast. However, perhaps the scale has been tipped too far to one side in an effort to get away from “Don’t Look Back’s” sunnier charms. After the exciting opening section of the disc, this murky, loping midsection sags a bit, and could have used a bit more of Kylesa’s energetic buzzsaw rhythms.

That moment finally comes with the penultimate track, “Back and Forth,” but once again, it’s also got an odd change in tone. The tempo is back up, and Cope is back on vocals, but now the band sounds as if they’re playing a discordant and muffled brand of surf rock. It’s an interesting experiment, but truth be told, I would have just preferred another “Tired Climb” or “Cheating Synergy” (or even “Scapegoat,” off the last album) before the band slowed down again for “Dust,” the final sludgy number.

The colorful, spacious elements on Spiral Shadow are all welcome (and, I hope, permanent) additions to Kylesa’s sound. But sludge or no, I just wish more of the album’s energy and tempos were as buoyant and exciting. Maybe we should just think of Spiral Shadow as your typical psychedelic – it starts on a crazy high, drops down into pensive murk and then finally peaks again. However, that later peak is never as fascinating as the early one, which is always a bummer.  Luckily, in this case you can just skip back to the beginning of the disc and take the trip all over again.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
December 1st, 2010


  1. Commented by: Jesse Wolf

    Sick review bro. I’m definitely going to be picking this up really soon.

  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    thanks dude welcome to the team. i’ll be checking out some of the stuff you’ve been recommending too.

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