Review Summary: Fantastic sludge metal. Chock full of great riffs, brilliant vocal performances and a generally awesome atmosphere. Kylesa have crafted an accessible album with enough depth to keep you coming back time after time.
Bands tagged as sludge have become a bit of an obsession with me of late. Just the other week, I obtained a rather huge amount of Isis and listened to them incessantly. Then all of a sudden, after a stint of not listening to either band for a long period of time, I rediscovered Mastodon and the almighty Neurosis. Whilst Mastodon are not strictly speaking a sludge metal band (Blood Mountain is more progressive metal than anything else), their earlier work pays testament to a number of legendary sludge acts, such as The Melvins and perhaps even Kyuss. But the most pleasant surprise of them all came in the form of a Kylesa album I downloaded long ago.
To Walk A Middle Course is a truly unique and at times breathtaking experience, combining intricate and unique drumming with great atmospheres and a brutal and varied vocal performance. The complexity of the drumming is in no doubt due to the fact that Kylesa employ the use of two drummers. At first, I thought this to be an overblown and rather stupid idea. But one really does have to listen to the band in order to appreciate just how well this works and what a great idea it was to do such a unique thing. Album opener In Memory begins with ominous and atmospheric sounds before a simple guitar line breaks through. Pained yells in accompaniment with drumbeats soon join the riff and all of a sudden the core of the band's sound is in full force. As the song progresses it is easy to see why they are classified as a sludge band; heavily downtuned guitars, rumbling and droning bass and of course, those ever powerful and brilliant drums. But another thing that separates Kylesa from the crowd is the vocals - both male and female vocals grace your ears throughout To Walk A Middle Course, but you won't find any harmonious female vocals akin to that of Nightwish. Laura Pleasants has a harsh, crust punk style vocal style - it's emotional and it's passionate. And it sounds fu
cking awesome, to put it bluntly. The male guitarist and bassist also join in on the vocal front - admittedly, their performances are outshone by that of Laura but their deliveries cannot be faulted. Rather than growling or screaming, all the vocals are pretty much yelled or shouted in a very punk fashion. It works really well with the music and at times when all of the vocalists combine (such as on the track Bottom Line), it sounds pretty epic.
The instrumentation on the album is also very good. Guitars churn out some great riffs, alternating between sludgy down tuned rhythms and interesting, atmospheric leads. The odd solo is here too, mostly incoherent and chaotic but nevertheless adding to the overall sound. The bass certainly provides a huge low end, following the guitars for the majority of the album but occasionally stepping out with the odd fill to keep things interesting. As mentioned before, the drumming is another aspect that makes Kylesa so unique and brilliant. Unpredictable rolls and fills are here, there and everywhere and the general rhythm keeping is great. Whilst being primarily a sludge band, Kylesa aren't afraid to step up the tempo to almost thrash-like levels. Subsequently, the drumming keeps up the pace or slows it down whenever needed.
Conclusively, To Walk A Middle Course is one of the most well rounded and accessible sludge albums I've heard in recent times. Everything from the vocal performances to the guitars and rhythm sections has something to offer. And the desolate, cold and harsh atmospheres created by songs such as Welcome Mat To And Abandoned Life and Shatter the Clock are superb for losing yourself in. All in all, if you're thinking of wading your way through the treacle that is sludge metal, Kylesa certainly aren't a bad band to go by. For fans of Isis, Mastodon, The Melvins or Kyuss, it's pretty likely that you'll enjoy this band just as I have.
Motion and Presence
Shatter the Clock