Affixing labels is often a bane and a blessing for a band. For Savannah, Georgia's Kylesa, the esteemed Southern psych-metal act that helped usher in the first waves of indie's acceptance of sludgy, off-center metal, pigeonholing is hardly an option. There's just too much to process, too many edges being pushed by the band, blending disparate, swirling elements of tripped-out production with utter furiousness -- yet their most recent release, Ultraviolet, finds Kylesa most rooted in the closest thing to a signature the band can get.
The record is an exercise in dynamics, juxtaposing the abrasive and the dreamy with violently jarring sequencing. This is the product of previous frustrations not fully realized. It seems that it's just one more factor to Kylesa that's finally coming together.
"When we were doing Spiral Shadow, we wanted songs to be more dynamic. We didn't quite pull it off the way we wanted, it was kind of a new approach we were taking, it was still different to us," vocalist, guitarist and founding member Phillip Cope says. "[On] Ultraviolet, we kind of took what we wanted from Spiral Shadow, and it was our task to perfect it. It ended up still being a learning process."
Cope laughs at that last line, as if he's well aware that he's still a student of his trade. Even after ten years, Kylesa's sound is still shifting, melding new influences together with the old, with himself and vocalist/guitarist Laura Pleasants at the center of it all. Changing the formula time and time again is more of an act of evolution for Kylesa, rather than pandering to whatever trend is currently infusing metal. Regardless, it still makes for a divided fan base. Ultraviolet, in Cope's eyes, pushed that one step further.
"There's two different camps of Kylesa fans," Cope explains. "There's the fans that like the heavier stuff and there's fans that like the mellower, trippier stuff -- with this album, it really divided a few people, at least the critics. We can never win."
That's not an admission of complete frustration, however. 2010's Spiral Shadow was well received by the indie music press, cracking the top 50 best albums of the year for Stereogum and Pitchfork. Being at the forefront of this new adoption of metal helped paved the way for bands like Pinkish Black, Kylesa's current tour mates, and Liturgy in the same circles. Yet it came at a cost, as it does for most forerunners.
"When we were one of the first bands to get accepted by some of that press and some of the fans, we took a beating because of it too," Cope says. "Since then, a lot of bands have got the attention now, and they didn't have to take the beating quite as hard as we got. Certain things that got attached to us back then still stick, but then bands walk in there and it's not a big deal anymore."
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So it goes for those that are constantly straining against the boundaries of their genre's restraints. Even more so for groundbreaking acts such as Kylesa, it seems that metal requires more on-the-road image upkeep than most other acts, as the band lives primarily through the touring lifestyle. When your sound is evolving as much as Kylesa's is, it's good to keep your fans up to date on your latest incarnation, front and center. No matter the cost, this is the way Cope wants it done.
"It can be grueling, especially trying to have a normal personal life, that gets tough," he says. "It puts serious strain on those kinds of relationships, but we've been doing it long enough that we kind of know how to handle it for the most part. Eventually, hard times come no matter what, but we just try to keep a level head and keep going."
Kylesa are scheduled to play the Yucca Tap Room on Saturday, Oct. 12.
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