Kylesa’s Spiral Shadow isn’t that much longer than its predecessor, Static Tensions-only about 3 minutes, in fact. And that’s largely thanks to the ten-minute title track. Yet the band’s fifth album seems absolutely immense. It’s a monolith of a record, a towering and thunderous psych-metal menhir that twists and turns and cascades like the vortex on its cover. Each burly, hallucinogenic riff feels huge, each instrumental passage stretching toward some eerie and unknown beyond. It pounds and it pummels and it swirls. And it’s over in a surprisingly brief 42 minutes.
Turning three-minute metal slams into epic feats of wizardry is just one of many ways in which the Savannah, Ga., fivesome sets itself apart from much of their Southern metal peers, or anyone else for that matter. Boasting two drummers and two vocalists, one of them female, Kylesa, from the beginning, struck their own individual path with heavy-hitting yet melodic results. With albums like the great Time Will Fuse Its Worth and the even better Static Tensions, Kylesa has continually taken sludge metal’s vicious rumble and fused it with the trippy excursions of psychedelic rock and the abrasive, streamlined edge of post-punk.
Spiral Shadow is different, though. It’s not that far removed from the band’s previous albums aesthetically, but compositionally, it’s in a world of its own. Rather than leaning as heavily on their punk influences, as they did on their prior effort, Kylesa more strongly embraces their melodic, riff-heavy side. That visceral, churning power chord crunch is certainly there, but it isn’t always the focus. On leadoff track “Tired Climb,” for instance, guitarists Philip Cope and Laura Pleasants trade serpentine riffs in a surprisingly hypnotic intro before slamming into the menacing sludge they’ve perfected during their ten years as a band.
Kylesa plays with more atmospheric styles on Spiral Shadow, from the ambient introduction to “Cheating Synergy” to the haunting, extended passages of “Drop Out.” Yet as the latter shows, Kylesa never veers too far into their heady, exotic realms before breaking down the walls and hammering out another furious set of low-end destruction. Regardless, around every corner there are some kickass surprises, chief among them “Don’t Look Back,” an infectious standout packed with Built to Spill-style riffage and a gang-vocal recitation of the song’s title as it concludes. Likewise, “Distance Closing In” is a mesmerizing exercise in gauzy textures and chanting vocals, while “Back and Forth” and “To Forget” subtly sear with the power of latter day Fugazi. And then there’s the title track, sprawling past ten minutes and offering the album’s most expansive journey, albeit one that stays consistently interesting throughout. That it’s such a rarity only serves to emphasize just how lean and focused a band Kylesa truly are.
Closing Spiral Shadow with “Dust,” one of the most accessible songs in their catalog to date, Kylesa put a majestic and stirring cap on their finest album to date. Like its predecessors, Spiral Shadow is an album free from bloat, bigger on ideas than it is on indulgence. These eleven tracks reveal that Kylesa has only grown more eclectic and assured with time, and as the final echo of delay fades into the sunset, the horizon seems that much wider than ever before.
MP3: “Tired Climb”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.