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Kylesa tell a simpler story

Shaking off the crust
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  October 19, 2010


High on Fire sludge forwards. By Daniel Brockman.
Whereas High on Fire have built a legendary career out of turning Matt Pike's tales of perseverance into mythic tales of orcs and demons, Savannah crust-metal collective Kylesa have opted to keep the mythic in the music alone, searing ears with a widescreen two-drummer assault that's both pummeling and haunting. Their latest, Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist), sees them moving even farther from the shrill attack that typified their earlier releases as they follow their twin obsessions with unrelenting psychedelia and emotional release to a point where you're too bowled over by the wonder of it all to ponder whether what they've made here is "metal."

"I don't know if I even consider us a metal band," says guitarist/singer Laura Pleasants, speaking from a rest stop "somewhere between Minneapolis and Milwaukee." The "metal" status of Spiral Shadow, out October 26, may be up for debate, but its inventiveness and its power are not, whether you're spinning down the beckoning vortex of "Distance Closing In" or enjoying the Built-To-Spill-gone-metal of album highlight "Don't Look Back." The classic metal trope is to focus band and singer on a single musical force and then hammer that point into the listener's forehead. Kylesa go for a more spread-out approach — perhaps because Pleasants shares vocal duties with guitarist Phil Cope and, on Spiral Shadow, new bassist Corey Barhorst.

With two drummers and three singers, things can't help but get intertwined. "Yeah," Pleasants explains, "we compose stuff so it's more like a landscape of sounds rather than, you know, just this one big thing hitting you." Such an approach will surely puzzle metal purists — but who cares when the music is this pounding-yet-beguiling?

The band's approach is, in a sense, a heavying-up of their crust-punk influences, and over the course of a decade and five albums, it has slowly matured from its more chaotic origins into this new incarnation of crushing splendor. "In the past, some of our vocals have been the weakest points of our records," Pleasants points out. "But we've grown a lot. Vocally, we're really into the early Anti-Con hip-hop artists, and bands like Nausea and Fugazi. Those kinds of acts, we love how they layer their voices, especially that early Anti-Con stuff."

So far, Kylesa have been interested in metal only when the sonics serve the songwriting — which means you probably shouldn't hold your breath for the band to jump into the metal world of flash and pompous myth. "We write about personal life experiences," says Pleasants. "We always have and will. It's easier for us, and, frankly, we just aren't interested in writing about mythology. We're more into emotion in music."

HIGH ON FIRE + TORCHE + KYLESA | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | October 23 at 9 pm | 18+ | $18 | 617.864.3278 or

Related: Matt Pike and High on Fire sludge forward, After a decade on the grind, Trap Them find their stride, Amon Amarth | Surtur Rising, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Music, Built To Spill, Middle East Downstairs,  More more >
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