Sound — 7
Stoner metal has been around as long as metal itself. Pioneers of metal, Black Sabbath, were also pioneers of the contemporary drug scene and envisioned a lot of their views into their songs - think "Sweet Leaf." Since then, laws have been passed in several states across America that saw the legalisation of marijuana, and with this, we have seen a rise in popularity for this specific genre of metal. Perhaps the legalisation of the sweet leaf has helped to bring certain members of the stoner communities out of their proverbial closets, parents basements, and sunken armchairs.
Nevertheless, the recent change in law has helped to develop a more intelligent stoner, and with it, more intelligent stoner metal.
Kylesa, long-established stoner metal band, are at the forefront of this current scene and continue to hold their status as such, diversifying their music to suit their ever-changing mood. Having calmed relatively in recent years, their new album presents a more refined and mature Kylesa that we have only briefly seen in recent years. Their last album back in 2013, "Ultraviolet," presented progressive and steadied ideas that differed from their previous work, but was still easily recognisable as the one of the scene's leading influences. The album was received well critically, but clearly outlined a change in musical direction for the band, a direction that was unclear but has now been cemented with the release of "Exhausting Fire."
Strained, piercing vocals, directionless, angry lyrics and erratic drum and guitar parts have been replaced with a more psychedelic and pacifistic lust for emotion in their music, which, when teamed with their new riff-heavy melodies and droning tempos, has created a sound that perhaps fans of their earlier work may not agree with. The exclusion of the aforementioned traits of Kylesa's earlier work has helped not only helped to refine weaker aspects of their style, such as the often monotonous or overly-aggro twin-vocals of Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants, but highlight the stronger parts, such as the eerie synth atmospherics that have been ever-present, but often overlooked. Of course, fans of the band will be very used to significant changes in style between records, which are usually met with supportive tones and the style quickly adopted to their list of tastes.
As we have seen from past albums, almost all of Kylesa's most captivating work has been born through adaptations of their various influences, bleeding various aspects of punk, psychedelic and sludge genres into one to form their own unique style to a level that is effective across a large fan-base. Their influence from dabbling in other genres is clear to see in "Exhausting Fires," and is actually quite refreshing to listen to. As sludge metal goes, Kylesa are one of the more recognisable names, most prominently for their use of experimentation as appose to droning riffs and not being able to tell when one song ends and another starts.
As a moderate fan of Kylesa and general music enthusiast, it is refreshing to hear a band that would class themselves under the sub-genre of sludge to be so well-pronounced and defined with their sound. Drums are no longer sloppy and poorly mixed, they are tight and dynamic- with a chest pounding bass drum that has enough resonance and a low enough pitch to hit home, but not so much that it would compromise the mix of a track. This, when coupled with the interesting and adventurous fills, dictated by crashing cymbals and powerful snare, helps to navigate and pronounce the natural progression of each track and immerse a listener as if they were listening to a live performance. It is much the same story with the guitar parts, Kylesa utilising a good mix of clean and heavily distorted sounds to diversify the listening experience and establish them as a staple of this genre. The guitars, which when coupled with well-mixed and appropriately positioned synth undertones, help to further outline the dynamics of the track and continue the natural immersion into the music. The vocals, however, are where the album has been let down. Despite the dynamic duo of Cope and Pleasants, which have worked well previously and are highlighted by the mature approach the band have taken towards "Exhausting Fire," I feel there is something left to be admired. As mentioned before, Kylesa have left their previous aggro vocals for a more refined and monotonous droning, which is not dissimilar from other bands of the genre, but in the process have alienated me from the band I recognise them as. I feel a comfortable mix between their vocals of old and their new, more relaxed and distant style of singing would be a compromise that not only fans would like to see, but a style that would be very welcome and appreciated within the genre.
Lyrics — 8
As well as maturing with their sound, Kylesa have also matured heavily with their lyric writing - bringing a greater amount of emotion and thought to their vocals. As mentioned before, aggro-shout-screaming has been replaced by a more steady and monotone style, inviting them to be more powerful with the lyrics they write, more than the sounds their lyrics make when screamed. Whilst screams are still present within most tracks, they are utilised more dynamically within the song to create a feeling of ascent or despair. The most prominent use of their newfound lyric styles are found on "Night Drive," with a more meaningful and emotional response to the mood of the song, where Cope screams: "I don't want to be on this night drive/ I would rather be anywhere else." Despite the general monotony of the vocal melodies, I am impressed with the new direction of the lyrics and personally think that it more than makes up for the lack of the aggro-styled vocals of previous albums that fans have become accustomed to.
Overall Impression — 7
The inclusion of a cover of Sabbath's "Paranoid" was quite a charming nod to the aforementioned pioneers of stoner metal and metal as a whole, and was quite interesting to hear their modern stoner metal take on it. In a return to their previous roots of full-blown stoner music, the song is slowed, full of shimmering tremolo and groaning lyrics that help to amplify the original distain of the lyrics that Ozzy wrote so long ago.
The opener, "Crusher," has exactly the energy that you would expect from a song with such a title - blending heavy distortion and chugging riffs with a host of effects that, when combined with the melodic and sudden change in melody to the soft and almost sensual vocals, help to create a truly new and dynamic Kylesa track that you're unlikely to have heard the likes of before. This is definitely my highlight of the album.
For me, I would be more than happy to include this album in my record collection. Moving away from their previous sludge roots slightly has allowed them more space to diversify and bleed aspects of other genres into theirs, borrowing riffs and beats here and there to fine-tune their sound to what they want it to sound like. And that is what is important to remember here - no matter what people think, no matter how many fans they lose or gain, they have only furthered their own interest in the music they make by branching out and diversifying their sound. I would expect their next album to be nothing less than completely different than this, but equally as good.