It’s been nearly 15 years since Savannah, Georgia based stoner sludge band Kylesa formed. Their self titled release in 2002 introduced them as a force in the stoner metal genre, with groovy riffs, crushingly heavy vocals, and a few remaining ties to the band’s grindcore origins. Over the years, the band has shifted and evolved their sound, incorporating influences from psychedelic and experimental roots. Their newest release, Exhausting Fire, has taken their sound to another level. With some heavy goth rock vibes and lots of focus on the commanding voice of Laura Pleasants, the seeds that were planted in 2013’s Ultraviolet have bloomed into one of the most exciting sounding projects in rock music currently.
Each of the wide variety of influences that shape Kylesa’s newly focused sound are represented on different songs throughout the album. Exhausting Fire opens with the aptly-titled “Crusher”, which immediately reassures long time fans that though their sound may have developed, they are still truly heavy forces in metal and hard rock. I include hard rock because, while they may have in the past been seen as solely a metal band, this is an album that could easily appeal to even the least frequent of metal listeners.
One of the most pervasive influences on this record is goth rock, which is especially noticeable in Pleasants’s vocals. Even “Crusher” lightens the load occasionally with her enchanting clean singing. Songs like “Night Drive” up the goth factor with a hazy sound that could almost be described as shoe-gaze influences. It’s a quick dot to connect from goth rock to the New Wave soaked lo-fi post punk that is being referenced this song, and with such heavy psychedelic inspiration, Kylesa does a seriously impressive take on it.
Kylesa has also upped the psych on Exhausting Fire. “Falling” is a totally atmospheric journey, a far leap from their grindcore roots. Pleasants voice sounds interesting and mysterious, and the “Echoes” style groove from the rhythm section keeps the song from dragging before it hits the fuzz heavy guitar solo. A change in pace has not tripped up the band’s ability to rock in the slightest.
And Exhausting Fire is still full of rock. “Shaping the Southern Sky,” as the title might suggest, is a groovy trip back to the band’s Southern metal origins with unrelenting riffs that, channeling the spacey heaviness of the likes of early Monster Magnet, will keep your head banging throughout the song. Kylesa hasn’t lost their original sound on this new record, they’ve just elevated the heck out of it. One of the places where this blend shines through best is on the track “Blood Moon,” an earth shatteringly sludgy track that evokes its title again and again.
No good band stops evolving their sound just because they feel they’ve found the one that fits. And Kylesa has proved to be one seriously good band, so one can only imagine where these giants in heavy music are headed next. Exhausting Fire will undoubtedly be remembered as not only one of the best releases of 2015, but likely a seminal record in the shape of metal to come. More and more bands have been embracing the psychedelic influences of their predecessors and their predecessors’ predecessors and are creating some of the most interesting, innovative music to come out in metal in a long time, and with Exhausting Fire, Kylesa has secured its place (where it was already sitting pretty nicely already) at the head of that movement.