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Spiral Shadow




Season of Mist

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What is it with metal these days? I listened to a lot of metal when i was a bored suburban teenager. Metal was loud and fast and seemingly angry about nothing in particular, a boredom fueled rage that made a lot of sense to me in the early 1980s. Then, of course, i discovered new wave/punk (which were the same thing in suburban Atlanta) and moved away from metal.

But metal just kept on. I guess that every generation of bored suburban kids needs someone to channel that feeling for them. However, current metal is not what i grew up with, sonically speaking. And thank goodness, because let's face it -- "hair metal" was awful stuff. I cannot believe that i owned Ratt albums, but there you are.

Back in the day metal was a lineage, one band following the other in a straight line leading from Vanilla Fudge to Poison, until the late 1980s, when some very punk bands started doing metal, and vice versa. There was a blurring of hardcore punk and heavy metal that reinvigorated both. Now a contemporary metal band is likely to be as familiar with Black Flag as they are Black Sabbath, with Front 242 as with Led Zeppelin. Personally, i find this development fascinating and i guess that is why i have been listening to a lot more metal lately.

Take Kylesa as an example. This is a metal band from the unlikely location of Savannah, GA, a city that i visited once, on a history field trip in high school. (To me, the city is a blur of old forts and sea-side tourist traps, none of which are exactly heavy metal.) Kylesa bring some dark ambient and some shoegaze into their sound. Neither genre is really a stretch when you think about it, but it is fascinating to me to hear a song that obviously draws influence from both Iron Maiden and Catherine Wheel.

Of course i am referring to Don't Look Back, a monster of a song built out of some truly thunderous drumming and layers of chiming guitar. This song is poppy in a way that very few metal tunes are. It is a song for teenagers to scream along with as they thrash their hair and bounce around like maniacs. "Keep moving, don't look back" indeed. But what makes Don't Look Back such a great tune is the duplication of instruments to create depth. That is, Kylesa double up on everything. They have two drummers, Tyler Newberry and Carl McGinley, and both of them are playing the same riffs. Meanwhile Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants are playing effected guitars and singing, not really in harmony but together nonetheless. Two layers of drum, two layers of guitar, and two layers of voice add some real depth.

This is the high point on the record, and it is one of those songs that most bands never quite succeed in writing. It is the song that Kylesa will be remembered for. But there are other interesting tunes on this record.

Back and Forth moves at a breakneck pace that reminds me of Rancid. The tempo here is West Coast Punk, with a bit more screaming and riffing, but still the same general type of song. On the other hand we have Dust, on which Newberry and McGinley play a really fascinating syncopation to the drum beat. The voice here is a flat chanting, a lifeless vocal drone seemingly lifted from a German electro song, while one guitar layer is a high-pitched post-punk chiming while the other is a distorted whirr that owes a debt to J. Mascis. This one song is Course of Empire, The Notwist, Dinosaur Jr, and Gang of Four all blurred together. Whoa!

Tired Climb, which actually starts the record, begins with a swell of strings, some keyboard noodling, and the drums and guitars trying their best to sound middle eastern, before suddenly, unexpectedly, exploding into a fury of heavy power chording. Cheating Synergy adds a long keyboard drone to the spectrum of sounds used here, a dark keyboard noodling.

But don’t forget the riffing and the screaming. Much of this record grinds and chugs at a furious pace that seems typical of the metal I hear these days. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a Kylesa song in the action sequence of a summer blockbuster – it is that type of music. But they add more to their sound, adding greater depth to their music, and I enjoy that.

Overall, i am pretty impressed. Of course Don't Look Back is an instant classic, but the record has a lot of interesting things going on. I am curious to see where Kylesa are going with their sound.

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