Release Date: May 28, 2013
Record label: Season of Mist
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
There’s a very good chance that Kylesa’s Ultraviolet is the best metal album of 2013. Sure, debating “best” and “true” and various other superlatives and definitions is about 40 percent of the daily conversational diet for metal fans. And, sure, there are tons of metal albums that get released, and when you first listen you get so swept up in the visceral rush that it’s easy to think “OMG THIS IS THE BEST EVER.” And yeah, it’s only May.
Given the thick sludge of their earlier work, when Kylesa released the stunningly psychedelic Spiral Shadow in 2010, it was evident that the band had tapped into something powerful. On their sixth album, Ultraviolet, it's clear the band are still channeling the same mind-expanding cosmic energies that helped to make their last album such a revelation. With a sound that's not only spacy but spacious, Kylesa continue to push their sound into the stratosphere, opting for atmosphere where they once would have erected a monumental wall of murky guitars.
Kylesa have always been more about atmosphere than heaviness, more likely to draw you deep into their thick sludge than to pummel you with volume. That's especially apparent on their sixth album, Ultraviolet, which peels back the murk to disclose the yearning, melancholic melodies below to such a degree that purists will hesitate to even call it metal. But the Savannah, Georgia, quintet doesn't worry about genre membership, instead creating an all-encompassing mood that allows for tuneful, spacey explorations alongside hardcore-influenced catharsis.
On their sixth full-length, Savannah shape-shifters Kylesa show just how far they’ve come from the nascent sludge of their early records. Whereas Ultraviolet opener “Exhale” wouldn’t sound out of place on their 2009 breakthrough, Static Tensions, the dreamy space rock of “Unspoken” and “Steady Breakdown”—both of which feature hypnotic lead vocals from guitarist Laura Pleasants—are uncharted territory for the band, not to mention sharp contrasts to the Torche-esque riff rock of “Quicksand” and relentless stoner boogie of “Grounded.” In the end, Ultraviolet’s finest moments occur when Kylesa venture farthest from their proven strengths and step into the unknown. J.
Savannah sludge quintet Kylesa broke out—and stood out—in 2010 as a result of their excellent fifth studio album, Spiral Shadow, which fused stoner metal, crust punk, and pop to form a confident statement that they're genre benders rather than metal purists. With their new album, Ultraviolet, they add even more grime to their sound, getting dirtier, darker, colder, and grittier while simultaneously adhering to their already behemoth aesthetic. The band wastes no time setting the tone, as opening track “Exhale” pounds the listener into submission with its militaristic drums, heavy major-chord guitar riffs, and Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope's aggressive vocals.
Ultraviolet light, despite being something that we know exists, even having an impact upon our physical bodies, is part of the spectrum of light we can't see unaided. This idea — that of a form of light that is present but not always apparent — is at the core of Ultraviolet, the sixth studio album from respected sludge experimenters Kylesa. Based in Savannah, GA, Kylesa have drawn from influences as diverse as doom and psychedelia to sculpt their sound, which is driven by powerful, aggressive drumming (they've been known to record and perform live with two percussionists playing simultaneously) and a smoky, syrup-thick guitar tone.
One of the biggest forward leaps from album to album in heavy metal came with Metallica's jump from 1983's Kill 'Em All to 1984's Ride the Lightning. "Fight Fire with Fire" was much faster and heavier than anything on Kill 'Em All (and arguably remains the heaviest song in their catalog), while "Fade to Black" was the world's first thrash metal power ballad, and expanded the horizons of their subgenre further than bands like Slayer or Exodus would have dared. By becoming simultaneously harder and softer, they became a more well-rounded group altogether.
Kylesa have always been a moving target. Since their inception, the Savannah, Ga., group has translated instability into energy, outlasting membership changes and tragedies to create strange and compelling stylistic welds. During the last decade, they’ve shouldered themselves nominally somewhere between sludge metal and psychedelic rock, but those terms are simply outsider touchstones for Kylesa’s brilliant internal turbidity.
Ultraviolet, the sixth album from Savannah-based heavies Kylesa, took two years to write, and brings with it a democratic shift in band dynamics. Its members now play the roles of multi-instrumentalists, and singer Laura Pleasants—who shares vocal duties with Phillip Cope—positions herself closer to center stage here than in previous outings. Despite these myriad weapons and extended gestation, the record sounds like a half-step backward, and feels like a more straightforward endeavor than the band's genre-straddling, far-out Spiral Shadow.
The course of a band is never clearly defined at the beginning. Some groups arrive fully formed and hit a creative apex early on, only to decline—sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly—because they are uncomfortable with the acclaim afforded for sounding a certain way and decide to experiment to their detriment. Then there are others; bands that arise from the murk and dirt with primal intent.
Kylesa always promised transcendence. The Savannah, Ga., ensemble never bothered sticking to its initial sludge script, and now prog, psych, and grunge groove together in a wall-shaking shimmer, piercing dissonance giving way to spine-caressing lyricism – sometimes all at once. Bandleaders Phil Cope and Laura Pleasants show off five LPs worth of development, coming into their own on "Unspoken," "Quicksand," and "Grounded," all lessons in following the muse down a path of riff-ripened enlightenment.
Catharsis has always been essential to Kylesa. No matter how far they pull you into the muddy, pitch black depths of a sludge metal swamp—and things get pretty dark on their newest album, Ultraviolet—there’s always a moment when a hand appears and they pull you to the surface. Despite the intimidating cover art—seriously, look at those bugs—this is not a band that’s going to put a curse on you and leave you for dead.
Savannah, the small city in Georgia USA, has inspired the a bewildering array of groups - sludgy riffs of Baroness, Circle Takes the Square, and Unpersons, with Kylesa probably the most successful of the lot. For the past 12 years, they've strengthened their dual hazy metallic psyche, and it's a surprise that their sixth outing, Ultraviolet, is their most stale, generic and lifeless record yet. Previous Kylesa albums have worn their influences on their sleeve: 70s psychedelic rock and crust punk mixed with sludge metal.