There are a lot of aspects of the current rock and metal scenes that I just don't understand. Unless a band fashions themselves as a throwback to the past, there is a gravitational pull to include ever increasing amounts of extreme elements into what used to be normal rock. Today, bands like Mastodon and Baroness are considered mainstream, when my ears tell me there's nothing inviting about the majority of the sounds they conjure up. The need to scour the songs, to remove any trace of shine from them, is a train of thought I have never been able to board.
I say this because Kylesa draws repeated comparisons to those two bands. And when the first sounds I heard are sludgy guitars and barked vocals, my expectations were set accordingly. Kylesa differentiates themselves with the male/female dueling vocals they borrow from the gothic bands, but the changing timbres don't alter the core of the songs. “Exhale” wants to open the album with a burst, but something is missing. Underneath the grime is a song that can't find its footing. Much like what one of those old punk songs would sound like with the gang vocals stripped away, it's all bluster.
That trend continues through much of the record. The very next track, “Unspoken”, makes it all the way through before you realize there was no melody, and barely a riff to be found under the noisy wash of guitars. There's a bit of common knowledge that guitarists of limited skill mask their deficiencies by cranking the amp as loud as it can go. I'm not discounting the instrumental skill the band has, but the songs live by this ethic. Too often, the compositions are barely developed, instead left to be covered up by the production. And often it works.
The comparisons with Mastodon aren't all that apt. While sonically there are similarities in the tones they pick out, Mastodon is a band that fills their songs with riffs atop riffs, while Kylesa relies more on droning chords and the decay speakers produce. The press release that comes along with the album calls the music “the kind that burrow into your brain and mesmerize at the same time, so you don't notice them drilling through your grey matter.” While I appreciate the turn of phrase, I stand completely opposed to this claim. None of the riffs on the album grew roots in my head, nor did they make me gape in awe.
The dominant thought that crossed my mind while listening to “Ultraviolet” was one of confusion. I had a hard time understanding why the band would spend so much time and energy making such a record, when it had so little musically to offer. The riffs weren't sharp, the vocals barely do anything but shout, and melody is limited to sparing flourishes that may have been accidental.
I would compare “Ultraviolet” to Bovine's “The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire”, which I reviewed a few months ago. They both trade in the same ugly sonic tones, but Bovine showed they can be used to construct songs that balance bludgeoning power with smart songcraft. Kylesa is unable to do that, instead presenting an album of half-formed songs that at times feel like practice exercises before a gig. I just don't understand this music.