Kylesa’s fifth album, 2010’s Spiral Shadow, didn’t lack atmosphere. At the same time, the sludgy-grooved Georgia rock band chiseled that atmosphere into something sharper, leaner, and catchier—not to mention curiously brighter. On Ultraviolet, the follow-up to Spiral Shadow, that brightness has all but bled out. What’s left is a murkier chemistry between the band’s doom-ridden roots and its more psychedelic—and at times even poppier—ambitions.
Its chemistry takes longer to break down, but it’s worth the effort. The album commences with “Exhale,” an intro-free onslaught of snarling post-hardcore and metallic gallop. Singer-guitarists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope split the verses down the middle, occasionally superimposing her savage cry over his wounded howl. But soaring breaks and chemtrails of trippy effects ventilate the heavier sections. That interplay gets nastier on “We’re Taking This,” a thick, belligerent burst of defiance in the face of adversity—and also a refutation of every stoner-rock and retro-metal cliché that’s been flogged to death over the past decade. The interstellar echoes and twisty chords of “Unspoken” are progressive, but the song isn’t prog; “Drifting” spirals into deep-space oblivion, but it isn’t shoegaze. And while “Quicksand” and “Vulture’s Landing” bear passing resemblances to Smashing Pumpkins and Torche, respectively, each finds its own path to churning, melodic bliss.
Pleasants has stated in recent interviews that Ultraviolet comes from a dark place, and that the songs are drawn from a certain reservoir of unnamed personal hardships over the past couple years. But the album is far from confessional—nor does it feel like catharsis. There’s a brooding restraint to hers and Cope’s ethereal heaviness, and nowhere is that better heard than on “Steady Breakdown.” With serpentine riffs, Pleasants’ anthemic vocals, and a meditation on “the loss of free will,” the song packs a majestic sprawl of mood and movement into less than five minutes. Rather than surrendering in the negative sense, it lets itself go in all the right ways.