New releases by established bands are always tricky for long-time fans, and for me, that's especially so with loud bands. There's all that stuff we fans have to allow for like "artistic growth" or whatever crap phrase the singer comes up with that's supposed to mean artistic growth, whatever that means anyway. Or maybe someone's had a baby, or someone's graduated from rehab or got a job or killed a fan in Europe or gone to Iceland to survive the apocalypse. All kinds of crazy stuff happens, and with loud bands, everything is generally cranked up a few extra levels of crazy. The passage of time works its change on everything, and often not for the better.
The thing is, though, I don't have time to pay attention to all that. So when a band I love, like Savannah's Kylesa, announced a couple of months ago that they're releasing their sixth album, Ultraviolet, this coming Tuesday (5/28) on Season of Mist, I confess to have had a pang of worry. Other than seeing them on tour a couple of times in the interim, I haven't really heard or seen anything about them. Their last album, 2010's Spiral Shadow, was great -- really great -- and the one from a year earlier, Static Tensions, was maybe even better. So in my ignorance I just hope. I hope not too much crazy stuff has happened to them, and I hope, against hope, that whatever may have befallen them has not caused them to turn down the volume.
Well, here's the thing about the mellowing out concern -- remember how the last album opener, "Tired Climb," started with a a psychedelic guitar, moved into a tribal two drum build, and finally, after fifty seconds, exploded into purest aggro-metal? The Ultraviolet opener, "Exhale," takes exactly the same approach, except that it explodes on the fifth beat, that is, two seconds in. It's as if this is a conscious reassurance to us from the band that they're still committed to the amplitude. We get four taps to the high-hat, two in the right channel, two in the left (letting us know their two-drummer approach is intact), and then pow! Philip Cope shouts over industrial sounding guitars and a pulsing rhythmic floor, and then trades vocals with Laura Pleasants until power chords open up the chorus. Like the ten tracks that will follow, it's ferociously refreshing.
Laura Pleasants, in fact, sings more on this album than on any of the band's earlier ones, and her voice sounds phenomenal. She's never had trouble meeting the visceral demands the music has made on her in the past, but on Ultraviolet she adds new dimensions one never might have expected. The airy femininity of her voice bouncing over the boiling punk-metal of "Vulture's Landing" is one of the many high points on the album. Check it out:
She's also the featured vocalist on the album's second song, "Unspoken," which is a further refinement of Kylesa's nearly unmatched ability to develop economical but fully realized metal songs around an unforgettable riff. Here, they build tension with a minute and a half of psych haze, and then move in a completely different direction with the southern-tinged riff underneath the dreamy vocal.
So nothing's happened to Kylesa to cause them to turn down the sound, but that's not to say that nothing's happened to them. The lyrics on Ultraviolet are dark and at times downright seething. Consider, for example, the brutal "We're Taking This," another dual-vocal thrasher that clocks in at the very punkrock 2:41. The song appears to center on some heated, to say the least, artistic differences, and the sheer force of Pleasants's culminating, paint-peeling scream "What goes around comes back around," will cause night terrors for all but the sternest of constitutions. It is not for the timid:
This one will be high on my year end best-of list. I think it's the band's finest album yet. Buy it, and make sure to go see them when they come to your town. They've spent a lot of hard years on the road becoming one of the best live acts anywhere.
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Kylesa on Season of Mist