Review Summary: Mehviolet.Ultraviolet
is an important album for Kylesa. Well, it was supposed to be anyway. Everything about the trajectory of their career seemed to suggest that their magnum opus was well on its way: 2009’s Static Tensions
found Kylesa going toe to toe with the giants of the sludge/stoner metal scene in terms of pounding riffs; 2010’s Spiral Shadow
had the band blazing a trail with their own sound and becoming indie darlings in the process; 2012’s From the Vaults vol.1
was a b-side and covers compilation that was far better than it had the right to be. Whatever would come next –which happens to be Ultraviolet
- would have to be that extra push to finally get out of the shadows of contemporaries like Baroness and Mastodon. Unfortunately, it’s not. Not only can it not form an argument for why Kylesa deserves to be in the same breath of the southern metal titans, Ultraviolet
never really makes a proper case for its own existence.
Things get off to a pretty mediocre start in opener “Exhale” as a fairly generic sludge riff is played over a shockingly lifeless rhythm section, considering the fact that the band employs two drummers. It’s a fairly inoffensive song –that is until its cringe-inducing ending as vocalists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope trade off a series of rhymes that struggle to make any sort of sense: “There is no validity/or any actuality/Just a morbidity/Loss of all capacity.” Unfortunately, it’s a good indicator on where Ultraviolet
puts its stock. Many of the songs plod at a surprisingly slow pace –probably with the intent to emphasize the heavily employed psychedelic buzzings and whirrs—and while I do space out, it’s not the kind that Kylesa was hoping for: I can hardly remember anything about any of the tracks from the first half of the album.
There are a lot of elements at play here as to why the album isn’t the success that it clearly wants to be. The production does absolutely no favors, making the drums sound hollow and distant and drowning out the little melody that there is. The worst offender of this is probably “What Does It Take”, which could have easily been a brief but blood-pumping mosh pit anthem if it weren’t so… muddy
. “What Does it Take” is still one of the better songs found within Ultraviolet
simply because it doesn’t meander like most of the album: “Unspoken” is entirely forgettable until it apes “Barracuda” going into a guitar solo; “Long Gone” is good for little else other than its out-of-place drum solo; “Steady Breakdown” insists on shoving a forgettable verse and chorus beside a wonderful guitar interlude. You begin to get the sense that Kylesa wrote a handful of parts that threaten to be interesting, only to go out of their way to put them in the most confusing and unnecessary contexts possible.
Things do get better to a degree in the album’s second half, however, with “Low Tide” being the album’s unquestionable bright spot. Sounding both like nothing Kylesa have ever done and like the song they were always destined to make, “Low Tide” chills things out with a hypnotic rhythm section that actually has some oomph to it, sparse and dazzling guitars, and a shockingly haunting vocal performance from Pleasants and Cope. The band has always had a penchant for nostalgic lyrics, but lines like “It’s winter/It’s low tide/Let’s hang out for a while/ On the last day we were alive” actually stings
. It’s enough to make you wonder how Ultraviolet
might’ve turned out had they chosen a different direction. “Vulture’s Landing” actually has some bounce to its step and sounds like a worthy addition the band’s catalog. “Quicksand” sounds a bit like a Smashing Pumpkins experiment. It doesn’t quite work, but it’s at least interesting. Unfortunately, “Drifting” closes things out by limping toward a totally unwarranted climax that sounds horribly out of place –as if the album had somehow skipped a few minutes of buildup.
All in all, Ultraviolet
is a puzzling release from a band whose career has been built around consistent quality. It ends up sounding like an album of unnecessary b-sides coming out so shortly after an actual album of b-sides that sounded like a-sides; it’s sophomoric from a band that has been anything but. While it's not appallingly awful, it is wholly forgettable. Kylesa will make a classic album someday; it just isn't Ultraviolet