Despite Kylesa positively crushing it on its latest wrecker, Spiral Shadow, somehow people have forgotten that the outfit is a metal band. The Savannah, Georgia, quintet’s fifth full-length easily rivals the destructive depths of past releases, via sinister sludge riffs and bludgeoning beats courtesy of an oppressive double-drummer lineup. Even so, a couple of tuneful tweaks in its formula have some metal-minded journalists questioning whether the veteran act has gone soft. While singer-guitarist Phillip Cope admits that Kylesa’s newfound interest in singing instead of screaming has added more melody to its music, allegations that the group has its eyes on the pop charts are a little off course.
“It’s obviously a heavy record,” Cope says of Spiral Shadow, on the line from his Georgia home. “It’s not like we stopped being a heavy band and started writing pop songs. It’s just a little unusual sometimes to have some of that structure within the frame of heavy music.”
The tune that seems to be getting the troupe—Cope, singer-guitarist Laura Pleasants, bassist Corey Barhorst, and drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry—in the most trouble is the crunchy anthem “Don’t Look Back”. The track goes for the throat with devastatingly detuned six-strings and an atom-bomb percussion assault that’ll have you seeking out the nearest lead-lined shelter, but between Pleasants’s background cooing and Cope nailing a couple of notes in between bulldog barks, it’s also more uplifting than anything in Kylesa’s murky, decade-old back catalogue. That said, Cope knows the track isn’t going to land the quintet on the radio anytime soon.
“I’ve heard some people say it’s commercial, but I just don’t see it,” he says. “I think that song is still pretty damn weird. The production on it is very heavy, and if you listen to it on headphones you will definitely notice that it’s trippy as hell.”
The rest of Spiral Shadow’s songs are just as disorienting. The opener, “Tired Climb”, for instance, balances speaker-panning tribal drum patterns with ominous, vertebrae-compacting riffs that rival those of fellow Georgian metal masters Mastodon and Baroness.
The 12-minute centrepiece, “Spiral Shadow”, which has Pleasants shredding out classic-rock solos in no fewer than three sections, teeters between gloomy stoner licks and more mellow but equally spliff-inspired jam-band grooves. The psychedelic punker “Back and Forth” plays it equally bizarre, suggesting Sonic Youth tossing out its copies of No New York and bringing its suitcases of effects pedals over to the anarcho-crust scene.
While Kylesa’s current crop of songs has the act exploring well past its punk roots, Spiral Shadow’s lyrics likewise address growth. “Don’t Look Back” posits that you have to keep moving on with your life, while closer “Dust” similarly suggests that you focus on where you are, not where you were, with lyrics like “Every mistake I’ve made, I would make again/If that is what it took to be where I am.”
“Sometimes it’s just not good to think about the things that fucked you up in the past,” Cope insists. “It’s better to leave those things alone and just move forward. Get them out of your head and think towards the future.”