Last week we called your attention to occult-oriented retro rockers Blood Ceremony (sweet new record, check out the review here), and it so happens they're currently touring in support of Kylesa, a well-established unit formed in Georgia back in 2000 and well known for their dark, swampy psychedelic mode of metal. Kylesa's sixth studio record Ultraviolet hit the street around the same time as Blood Ceremony's The Eldritch Dark, and it's about time we dropped our needle on this band's ominous new offering.
Blending rough-edged stoner sludge with the mood and textures of gothic & doom metal, Kylesa have made a few mods to their sound since their gritty, punk-infused 2010 breakthrough Spiral Shadow, which laid down corrosive power-riffs, anthemic chants and a thundering rhythmic assault (courtesy of dual drummers Carl McGinley and Eric Hernandez), scoring the band their highest props to date. On Ultraviolet, their sound is still effectively aggressive, but now incorporates more subdued, melodic vocals, lush dreamlike effects, keyboards, and even a theremin (the most iconic horror music instrument) into the mix of fat, dropped chords and tribal beats. Spiral Shadow suggested advances in this direction by introducing more psychedelic elements, but with this release they've crept even further into the darkness. Lead vocal duties have moved mainly to frontwoman/guitarist Laura Pleasants, who still shares the mic with fellow guitarist/vocalist Phillip Cope; Pleasants' voice here has a more ethereal quality (she belts out much harsher vocals with equal skill), sung in a deeper range that compliments the more sublimely trippy soundscapes found within these new tracks and helps build infectious melodies.
That's not to say that punk and raw metal are no longer in Kylesa's toolit, as the crushing opening cut "Exhale" will inform you immediately with a crunchy main riff and a shouted chorus from both vocalists, but that track is more of a mighty, monolithic signpost indicating that the band is about to cross into foggier territory; an expansive, echoing instrumental intro, intricately plucked low guitars and Pleasants' gothic tones will guide you headlong into that darker terrain in the single "Unspoken" and the equally ominous “Long Gone.” In "Grounded," the vocals are heavily treated for nightmarish effect, be it Cope's down-pitched chants or Pleasants' ghostly harmonies. The band's signature thunder-rhythms get to take command on "We're Taking This," a violent march to hell enhanced by elaborate and often disorienting production, resulting in some of the album's scariest moments, and beneath the relentless, screeching guitar mangles of "What Does It Take" and the epic "Vulture's Landing" (my favorite track on the album). Mellower but no less spooky are the vintage hard rock dirge "Steady Breakdown" and the bass-rolling shoegaze ballads "Low Tide" and “Drifting,” and the guitars finally soar into orbit for "Quicksand,” another cosmic rocker with the same thick wall-of-sound production but a more urgent, buzzing vibe.
While much of Ultraviolet backs down from the rowdy punk power of Spiral Shadow, I get the impression the band is not trying to recapture that same lightning here; instead, this record feels like the darker, more introspective flipside, maintaining the band's sludge-worthy sonic signature while at the same time exploring a very different set of textures. The result is a well-varied collection of songs that appeal to more gothic sensibilities and visit spookier creative places... always a good thing, at least in this horror guy's opinion. For a sample of what I'm talking about, hit play on “Unspoken” below:
Kylesa and Blood Ceremony are still touring most of this month; drop by Kylesa's Facebook page for dates and venues.