Review Summary: "Spiral Shadow" sees Kylesa fully realizing their potential with an all around solid album.
If there were a contest for the most consistently “badass” modern metal band , Kylesa would be quite the contender. That being said, Kylesa are in no way the best or even the most consistent metal band around today, but their distinctive sound oozes with style, and really makes the band standout amongst their contemporaries. Their contemporaries being part of the ever growing Georgia metal scene, which unfortunately has led Kylesa to be shadowed by bigger acts. Yet amidst this, the band has concocted an intriguing mixture of stoner, sludge, and hardcore, creating a dense and heavy brand of metal. Their sound is truly unique, and above all else, it’s been the band’s biggest draw.
However, even with such a solid style and sound, Kylesa have never truly been able to break out and “wow” listeners. That isn’t to say the band hasn’t had their fair share of solid releases, but each album seems to barely miss true greatness. 2009’s “Static Tensions” was the closest the band has come to achieving this, but it’s miscues and reserved nature brought down the overall experience. Coming a mere year after said album, Kylesa have released “Spiral Shadow,” an album worthy of the band’s potential.
“Spiral Shadow” is a fierce piece of music, and the band’s most solid release to date. As a whole, it lacks the more “sludgy” aspects of their sound, but instead, they have gained more contemporary metal aesthetics. Don’t be lulled into thinking that the band has lost their signature sound, but rather, they have completely refined what was already great to begin with. Everything from the overall tone and atmosphere has been polished to a sheen, making it the band’s most consistent release as well, which brings this reviewer to the band’s most improved aspect; the drumming.
If there was ever a more disappointing aspect of Kylesa, it would be their drummers. Yes, the band has two drummers, and yes, they have always done an excellent job. However, they’ve never taken advantage of their dual drummers. In previous releases, it has always appeared as if both drummers were playing the same part, just on different sides of the headphones. And in all honesty, it has always sounded pretty cool. Yet on “Spiral Shadow,” the drummers have removed most of their reservations, and both have become much more versatile. Unless one were to listen to the album, it would be difficult to ascertain how vital the drummers are to the band’s sound. It’s very tribal in execution, as they are more privy to use much lower tones in respect to their percussion. The work here makes everything move at a deliberate pace, and the album is much better because of it.
However, the excellent percussion work would all be for naught were it not for the other fine instrumentalists present. Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants do some really wonderful guitar work on “Spiral Shadow,” adding a lot of texture and density to the tone. They’re more versatile than ever, utilizing more effects and styles than in previous records. Extra detailing like the intro and midsection of the title track go a long way in making the album truly great. The album’s closer features many different sounds and effects, with style changes and mood shifts, thanks in no small part to the guitarists. Vocally, Kylesa haven’t really brought anything new to the table. While they have always been really excellent in the vocal department, Laura Pleasants has always seemed sightly disappointing. Sure, her voice has a mysterious quality to it, but she sounds completely void of emotion. There’s no passion or feeling in her voice, and she comes off as pretty weak in comparison to the other vocalists, Philip Cope and Corey Barhorst. Parts of “To Forget” show slight improvement, but other parts of that very same song show her at her weakest. In no way is her work expressly bad, but as a whole it leaves much to be desired.
“Spiral Shadow” is a great listen because the band sounds so great, but there is also a wealth of great songs to be had as well. While there are a few forgettable tunes, such as “To Forget” and “Forsaken,” the vast majority of the album is truly impressive. “Tired Climb” is an awesome opener, as it displays everything that is so wonderful about the band. Opening up with an atmospheric guitar part, the song pics up steam with the very distinctive drum work. The hardcore aesthetics of the vocals enter in, and the song moves at a really deliberate pace whilst still featuring a lot of variety. Even Laura Pleasants vocals are decent here, as they do not take the forefront, and are used more for detailing. Other songs such as “Distance Closing In” and “Drop Out” add a little more variety to the album, featuring different styles and tempos to keep things interesting. The title track is also another stand out, featuring a very psychedelic atmosphere. It’s more instrumental than most of the record, allowing for the atmosphere and texture to take center stage. “Dust,” a more subdued track, closes the album out very nicely with it’s great instrumentation and “stoner-esque” mood.
Kylesa have really stepped up their game on “Spiral Shadow,” and have created something that is worthy of their promise. It’s exciting, fun, and simply a fantastic metal album. The band has stated that it has never been their intention to be the best band, but rather that they merely desire to make great heavy music. This sentiment really shines through the album, as it feels as though the band released all inhibitions, and created something truly spectacular. “Spiral Shadow” is the sound of Kylesa finally achieving greatness.