WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2011 - “Spiral Shadow” is a great album title for the latest from Savannah, Georgia’s Kylesa. In one fell swoop, it captures the band’s penchant for twisting rhythms and ethereal melodies. The successor to 2009’s stellar “Static Tensions,” “Spiral Shadow” contains all these traits and more, continuing the group’s recent journey into jittery, psychedelic metal. It’s a trip taken with fresh footsteps given Kylesa has upgraded its sonic identity with pop sensibilities, giving “Spiral Shadow” a polished sheen.
Kylesa’s lineup is unusual as two guitarists duel two drummers while a bassist mediates the battle. After four previous full-lengths, they’ve tamed this dichotomy by keeping the percussion simple but punchy and the guitars trippy and meandering. It’s a winning formula perfected by the clashing vocals of male vocalist/guitarist Phillip Cope and female singer/guitarist Laura Pleasants. “Spiral Shadow” is no different, boasting the equality between sludgy and soothing that has always been the group’s sound.
“Tired Climb” superbly captures this balance with a song as heavy as it is hazy. It’s analogous to sun-cooked blacktop – the jittery drums are the track’s roasting asphalt, its shimmering guitar chords the waves of heat. The explosive riffs take front and center, bursting with the energetic hum of muscle cars.
“Cheating Synergy” charges ahead with buzzing bass notes, unhinged percussion and twinkling guitar leads which fall like acid rain. “Drop Out” unfolds like a thunderstorm, beginning with a drumming downpour soon interspersed with moody acoustic chords and earthshaking riffs like lightning bolts. “Crowded Road” earns its name by exuding an anxious quality in all three of the instruments jostling for listeners’ attention.
The energy to this point is so palpable the laid-back “Don’t Look Back” seems more distracting than delightful. It should prove divisive among heavy metal fanatics as its only qualities are delirious guitar work and a simple, mantra-like chorus worthy of pop radio. “Distance Closing In” starts equally slow, its smoky chords leading listeners into fiery, defiant heavy metal. “To Forget” drifts like a wisp of incense, eventually erupting into a jam session of hallucinogenic riffs among the most organic moments on the CD.
“Forsaken” rattles and hums with noticeable agitation, feeling like it will fly apart at any second. Catharsis never comes, leaving listeners begging for relief from the track’s eerie sing-songs and ominous guitars. The title track is next, attacking with an assortment of sultry melodies befitting a jam session. It’s a mesmerizing centerpiece, its maze-like structure intricate and interesting enough for a grand finale.
“Back and Forth” thus falls flat, its combination of psychedelic fuzz and pop-punk singing feeling insincere. “Dust” closes the album down with a sojourn through wavering distortion and ringing guitar notes, ending the record on a resounding frequency deep in one’s chest.
“Spiral Shadow” smoothes out Kylesa’s rough edges by delivering their most streamlined album yet. It isn’t perfect, but its alternating poignancy and passion save the day. At times catchy, at other crusty, it’s as great a fit for the mainstream as it is for metalheads.
“Don’t Look Back”
“Distance Closing In”
“Back and Forth”
Rating: 8 out of 10.
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