Kylesa Means What?

How about that?!?! You’ve already asked or been asked a question before reading a single sentence. For those of you in a hurry:

  1. Kylesa is a band;
  2. Kylesa, the band name, comes from the term “kilesa mara” which refers to the demons of defilement from Buddhism. They may not be literal horny demons, but more figurative traits that, through delusion, interfere in our ideal function. At least, that’s how Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo describes it.

Obviously, to me at least, this post is much more about the band than Buddhist demons. If you have a Buddhist demon infestation (mirkin firkin, how’re you doin’?), seek professional help. So, on to Kylesa.

If the band name refers to demons, you can be fairly sure that the band genre is some form of heavy metal, but, in this case, not an occult-associated form. It is heavy music but, like Baroness and Neurosis, it’s heavy music that mixes some extreme metal traits with non-metallic traits to form heavy music that modernizes some aspect of Black Sabbath. Let us pause so that those who truly know the bands just mentioned can complete their uncomfortable wince at my clumsy comparison. Better? OK. The comparison is imperfect, but it speaks to me, a person returning to metal after a long self-imposed exile. Some day, I’ll know what differentiates sludge metal from stoner metal and crust punk. Some day, I will know how doom-death differs from death-doom or if, indeed, there is a difference. For now, I have only six facts I can use and you, dear reader, will have to suffer.

Ultraviolet by Kylesa

Ultraviolet by Kylesa

From the beginning of this album, on “Exhale”, you get the downtuned chunka-chunka guitars interspersed with yell/shout (i.e. not scream or cookie monster) and riff-after-riff. If you only like your metal extreme, this is a pretty middle-of-the-road extreme.

Kylesa’s current style meets somewhere at the progressive metal/rock border with Porcupine Tree and, in fact, closing song “Drifting” reminds me of Porcupine Tree. Porcupine Tree comes from a progressive art rock territory, moving towards metal, at times. Kylesa, starts with metal and moves towards prog versions of metal/rock. One is clearly metal and the other not, but from one side of the fence to the other is not far. It’s just a fence. Does the border really matter that much?

One track shows all the best elements of Kylesa: “Unspoken”. Here you find heavy guitar sounds, occasionally routed through a prog-rock phaser, adding elements of whooshiness to the heavyness. Lead vocals here come from singer/guitarist Laura Pleasant and, guess what, she just sings. It’s not theatrical, screechy, or anything but just ordinary singing and IT WORKS! The same vocals, in the same octave, could be performed by any falsetto metal screamer, but they’d sound forced, and wrong. The song is loaded with guitar goodness, but each part, each element has it’s own sound so that you, the lucky listener, can hear distinct instruments serving distinct purposes all while serving the entirety of the song. If that’s not enough example, listen on to “Grounded” to hear more of the same, plus a little southern metal almost-boogie.

Your bullet point:

  • Anthem that you can’t easily sing along with: “We’re Taking This”.

While I enjoy most of the album, “Low Tide” leaves me nauseous. It’s a perfectly good, well put together song, but I hear the clash of several bombastic formulae of the past. On the one hand there’s Starship (after dropping both “Jefferson” and modernizing from mere airplanes). On the other, there’s a bad version of the Peter Murphy or Sisters of Mercy goth rock. Maybe Psychedelic Furs is more accurate. In any event, bombast collides and I get nauseous. Your stomach may be stronger than mine. Thankfully, “Vulture’s Landing” follows closely behind, sticking to solid metallic single-formula bombast … you know, the kind that works. Honestly, you may not experience nausea and, to be fair, even a mere tilt-a-whirl messes me up.

I claimed this metal came from the model of Black Sabbath, but it’s not literally Black Sabbath. It’s Black Sabbath as it evolves over time. The original Sabbath lineup had a claustrophobic spookiness that, with Ronnie James Dio, gained expansiveness, fantasy, and near-operatic bombast. Today’s Kylesa’s includes the heaviness of original Sabbath guitars, but in a less claustrophobic place. Kilesa adds in a little of the more direct angst of more modern metal/hardcore along with the chunka-chunka that emerged in the 80s. In the end, Kylesa’s sound is the grandchild of Sabbath, including a grandmother who liked Molly Hatchett, influenced by a teacher who listened to Jethro Tull and a cousin who does haunted house sound design. You can hear the lineage, but it’s been filtered through decades of real life.

So, to summarize: metal, progressive, occasional whooshing, natural voice, almost-boogie, not-airplane flashback, nausea. It all adds up to a more-or-less metal album I can play in almost any mood, but if I want a jolt of energy, I’ve got other options.

16 thoughts on “Kylesa Means What?

  1. How do you create your comparisons? The grandchild, grandmother, teacher lineages? Do you simply shut your eyes and listen and wait for the sounds to remind you of something? You are so creative in your descriptions that even though I haven’t heard of 90% of the bands you review, I can pretty much figure out their sounds from your words. You’re neat-o, Mr. Orange.

    • Thank you! Honestly, I usually write my way into a corner and start grasping for metaphors to help me escape. This time my only goal was to say it’s not really Black Sabbath which, since that includes carrots and knitting and car accidents, is not very descriptive. That was my corner and a grandparent (genetics, actually) was the escape route.

  2. I’ve gone back and forth with Kylesa, and this record in particular. While I do dig this album, I preferred the slightly more off-kilter Spiral Shadow and Static Tensions. They seemed slightly crazier. I sorta went through the same thing with Mastodon. Crack The Skye was a breakthrough record for them in that they retained the edge while writing something more folks could dig. The Hunter almost went to southern fried metal for me. I did come around to that album, and I think I’ll do the same with Ultraviolet. Besides, Laura Pleasants is a hell of a guitarist.

    • This was my first album of Kylesa, so I’m not truly experienced here, but I can see how they could do weirder and make it work. I’ll have to do some extra research and check it out.

  3. Nice one. I am always on the look-out for one or two metal albums each year because for some reason metal and anything -core relaxes me in big crowds and sometimes even at work. I could do without the shouting, though, I can’t really stand it in metal. But boy, the instrumentals on this one are pretty smashing. Oh, and thanks guys for reminding me that I need my annual dose of Mastodon…

    • Thanks! It was kind of an accident, a fortunate accident, but still an accident. I can understand being anti-shouting, but at least the vocals aren’t the most extreme and the shouting is actually confined to a few songs.

      I think I’ve been circling towards Mastodon and Neurosis for awhile. Kylesa will probably get me to Baroness and then one of the other two … eventually. It all makes me feel so macho (not really)!

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