Ferocious Sensitivity: Kylesa, October 8 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 05:59

Kylesa. Photo by Geoff L. Johnson.In a genre that stresses heaviness, riffs, chops, and menace above all else, Georgia-based Kylesa is something of a rarity.

The five-piece psychedelic-metal band is most notable for its strong sense of melody and dynamics within undeniable heaviness, and that’s partly a function of having three vocalists (including a woman!) and two drummers. But Kylesa is greater than the sum of those parts, commanding a wider range of feelings and textures than most metal bands even attempt, let alone pull off. They caress listeners while still bludgeoning them, often at the same time and rarely straining.

Playing RIBCO on October 8 as part of the Sanctioned Annihilation Tour with High on Fire and Torche, Kylesa is poised to release the majestic, thunderous Spiral Shadow on October 26, and it might be my favorite metal album in years.

One early review of the album referenced Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, and the Pixies, and guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer Phillip Cope acknowledged those influences in a phone interview last week, expressing surprise that people hadn’t noticed them much before.

What’s important to understand, though, is how buried those touchstones are: What Kylesa borrows from those seminal bands from the 1980s is an inclination rather than an aesthetic or genre – a melding of noise with that which the ear finds naturally pleasing. “It’s okay to put something in there that’s undeniably catchy,” Cope said.

The most direct connection to those alt-rock luminaries is the hook of “Don’t Look Back,” a thick, dirty child of the Pixies’ “Debaser.” Nothing else on Spiral Shadow is as direct or instantly accessible, but within every song are easy entry points, even for people who generally find metal tiresome.

“Dynamics is definitely something we were going for,” he said. The aim was “hopefully a more interesting listen. Something that has more valleys and peaks to it. ... When you hear it, there’s something there that catches your attention and keeps you listening, and there’s also something about it that makes you listen to it again. And when you do, you notice things that maybe you didn’t notice the first time around.”

That’s a normal recipe for good music, but Kylesa pulls it off without sacrificing ferocity. Part of the credit must go to Cope the producer, who said he was trying to get “more of a three-dimensional sound” this time around. That was something the band accomplished with its dual drummers on 2009’s Static Tensions, but he said he wanted to expand it to the entirety of the sound.

It helps that the songwriting is excellent – concise (nine of 11 tracks come in under four minutes) and varied. Spiral Shadow is experimental on a sonic level without being “experimental” in the sense of eight-minute epics loaded with empty riffage.

That’s likely a function of maturity. The choice to use two drummers (starting with 2006’s Time Will Fuse Its Worth) was, Cope admits, part of a metal arms race. “As simpleminded as this is, it was just to be heavier,” he said, because Kylesa had maxed out the number of amps it could reasonably haul around. But it quickly became apparent that “we had to think a lot broader than just that.”

And they have. The intricate yet pummeling percussion of Spiral Shadow is a testament to Cope’s production skills, in the sense that it’s apparent there are two drummers if you know it, but they’re of-a-piece with the songs, never there for show. “It’s still very open with possibilities,” he said of what the band can accomplish with two drummers.

Cope had produced some local bands in Georgia, but, until Time Will Fuse Its Worth, he left Kylesa’s production to outsiders, not wanting to be seen as a control freak in what had always been (and remains) a democratic band. “After some pretty bad experiences in the studio working with other people, it became pretty obvious that maybe it was time for me to step up,” he said. “I’m going to know better what works for this band than an outside person.”

Kylesa will perform on Friday, October 8, as part of the Sanctioned Annihilation Tour, also featuring High on Fire and Torche. Advance tickets are $20 and available from RIBCO.com. The show starts at 9 p.m.

For more information on Kylesa, visit Kylesa.com.

For an interview with High on Fire's Matt Pike, click here.

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