KYLESA have proven to be one of the most evolutionary metal bands of our time. Like fellow Georgians BARONESS, it's not wholly accurate to label them sludge, much less metal, though the two are the primary palettes both create in. Since 2009's "Static Tensions", KYLESA has sought an identity outside of the sonic bombast Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants whip as loudly as anyone can handle.
Each album from "Static Tensions" through their seventh release, "Exhausting Fire", has been working toward a happy medium between thunderous slurry and a hallucinogenic stupor. Consider "Exhausting Fire" mission accomplished. Even with session bassist Jay Matheson appearing on only a handful of songs (not the first time this band has employed the session method at this station), this is one of the most audacious and compressing yet fundamentally sound albums in KYLESA's catalog to date.
The opening number "Crusher" is exactly that, a slow and oppressive muck monster for vocalist Laura Pleasants to wail woozily over. The gradual wind of the track gives her roughneck sirens a chance to glide, as the clapping tones give way to placid breaks. Pleasants, along with Phillip Cope, weave dreamy swills, vocally and through their guitars. When KYLESA reassumes their heavy slogs outside of these psyched-out guitar floats, they're beautifully crunky in their own right. Afterwards, KYLESA pour some nasty tar into their riffs on "Inward Debate", a massive track building steam upon Phillip Cope's vibrating bass strings and Carl McGinley's chugging thumps.
"Moving Day" broils some of THE PIXIES's grubbiest riffs with a swaying, catchy melody and a vibrant finale. The echoing serenity at "Moving Day"'s end gets picked up by the subsequent track, "Lost and Confused", which grows meaner as the track skulks. To this point, the slower measures give "Exhausting Fire" a lean and tough vibe with plenty of elbow room for soothing textures to express themselves. Phillip Cope huffs his way to a soaring final chorus on "Lost and Confused" as the song drifts into a chasm of reverb.
"Shaping the Southern Sky" drops the hammer with a banging rock groove for Laura Pleasants to droll over. The thumping rhythm and Jay Matheson's punctuating bass gives "Shaping the Southern Sky" a nether rumble for the natty guitar riffs to holler through. "Shaping the Southern Sky" is a shit-kicker on the bookends of the track, hitting a trippy jam session within.
Psychedelics being a leitmotif to "Exhausting Fire", the dawdling plunge of "Falling" is one of the dizziest pleasure rides on the album. Plucking most of the freefalling guitar twitters from THE CURE and SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES, even Laura Pleasants takes cue by dropping a charming impression of Siouxsie Sioux. When "Falling" hits a wall of distortion, though, the effect is, cliché to say, akin to a head-on collision. "Night Drive" rings like an inebriated haul down a barren freeway, and the song is weird as hell with Jay Matheson's weltering bass blobs setting up the song's vast choruses. When "Night Drive" hits its apex, hold the hell on as KYLESA veers into a daze prior to its booming finish.
If you haven't yet felt like KYLESA's raked you hard, then stand by for "Blood Moon", which lulls through its opening swills with oboe (played by Andrew J. Ripley) and a betraying sense of calm. Slamming the track with a ferocious beat on the verses, "Blood Moon" is a tricky bastard with varying moods, tempos and an engulfment felt deep within ear canals, triggering momentary paralysis. The album finishes with, fittingly, track 11, a slow-moving, sludge-steeped smoke-infused cover of BLACK SABBATH's "Paranoid".
KYLESA has always been a forward-thinking, if not one of the heaviest bands of their ilk—both connotations of "heavy" implied. "Exhausting Fire" is one of the most concentrated albums Cope and Pleasants have written, and that applies to the cerebral milieus as much as the wringing detonations triggered within.