Kylesa - Spiral Shadow
Kylesa's latest full-length begins the ass-kicking right away, with the stoner-tinged "Tired Climb", alternating between Mastadon style pentatonics, chopped syllable shouts and tranquil female vox over tantrum drums. "Cheating Synergy" takes it down a notch with wider, distorted screams and some rhythm guitar hammering. "Drop Out" brings the somberness full circle, with a dynamic shifting between minor-key rants and chorusy clean guitar interludes. It becomes militant halfway through, building and exploding into a blackened waltz complete with a tribal drum breakdown that returns the song to its beginning riffs. "Crowded Road" introduces some interesting upper register verse rhythms before breaking down into a diminished driven march, then follows the albums pattern of returning to its opening sections. "Don't Look Back" takes a more positive emotional turn, with its massive, major key verse progression shifting gears among phase shifted lead and more shouting. "Distance Closing In" is essentially a doom song overlayed with some death riffing and some added speed. "To Forget" is a solid stoner anthem, with big, dropped tuning riffing and high-altitude vocal melodies. "Forsaken" quickly follows with the albums heaviest riffing, and shifts abruptly to the title track, which is an airy, proggy affair ending in a bit of Tool-esque guitar brutality. "Back and Forth" follows, coming off more like an early Mars Volta or late ATDI schizo vision, with its dreamy vocal processing and airy guitars. Its quit refreshing and original at this point in the album. "Dust", the album's final track, shifts between lackadaisical arpeggiating and focused, low register singing, and builds eventually into a wall of melancholic shoegaze, a very appropriate end to the disc.
The production on this album is no doubt adequate for the style, but at times the rhythm section blends and bleeds into the guitar and vocal parts, and vice versa, making each difficult to distinguish. A bit more discretion would have improved this album's sense of space quite a bit. On the plus side, Kylesa has one of the more talented drummers Ive heard recently, and this albums mixing does well to makes sure you don't miss a beat of the drum track.
Compositionally, this album disappoints in a few key ways. Firstly, it lacks a strong sense of continuity between each songs component parts. Sections lack motifs and recognizable progressions between each other, making most of the tracks feel pasted together, or even a bit random at times. Secondly, the vocal style of both the male and female singers is unimpressive. Often it is no more than monotonic recitation (reminiscent of At The Drive In but much further in the background and with much more predictable meter), and at times sounds out of tune. It rarely matches the energy of the rhythms and this really diminishes the impact of some of the albums heavier sections (ie. "Distance Closing In") The better news is that this bands rhythm section can truly crush when it wants to. On tracks like "Tired Climb" and "Forsaken", the guitar, bass and drums are pretty much seamless and conjure up some truly heavy atmospheres. The guitar tones and textures are nothing to write home about but are gritty enough to where you get the point quickly. Also well done are the effect and reverb-laiden lead sections, which balance out the density of the rhythm with a bit of breathing room (especially on the title track).
The most original thing about this album would have to be the calm, lower register female vocals. They almost sound lifted from another style at times and don't always mesh well with the quicker rhythms in some tracks, but they work well to produce an envelope I haven't heard much of in the sludge style. The heavily processed vocals on "Back and Forth" achieve a similar effect.
Overall I would give this disc a listen if you have been following Kylesa for some time, or if you want to hear some metal mainstays executed with a more alternative approach. If you are looking for something exceptionally heavy, however, this album wont satisfy.
Production - 8
Composition - 6
Originality - 6.5
Overall - 6.8