Friday, January 29, 2010

Baroness - 'Blue Record' / Kylesa - 'Static Tensions'

This article is 666 words long.

Surely, future generations will speak of Savannah, Ga. in the same breath as Seattle, Wash. or Athens, Ga. Its nascent metal scene has given rise to several bands that transcend scene politics. The biggest so far is probably Mastodon, from nearby Atlanta, who earned hipster approval outside of metal circles. Indeed, Georgia has been turning out metal bands that defy metal expectations at a rapid clip. Take, for example, last year’s releases Static Tensions by Kylesa and Blue Record by Baroness.

Both bands deal in sludgy, heavy, awesome tunes. It’s certainly technical, but not to the point of exclusion. When Pat Mathis joked to Spin’s David Peisner about “…that whole heavy, doomy Southern kind of metal. When you get these old punk guys who listen to the Allman Brothers and start a metal band, that’s kind of what you get,” he was pretty accurate.

Stylistically, Kylesa and Baroness are of a piece. But dig deeper, and there are differences. Baroness is more willing to get expansive, often jamming out songs without sacrificing energy. They have a gritty appeal, but they’re not afraid to explore guitar solos or the occasional haunting, acoustic part. Blue Record, the follow-up to 2007’s even more awesome Red Album and perhaps a nod to the Beatles’ singles collections from the ’70s, even takes breaks from rocking to explore feedback and ethereal, Alice in Chains-style melodies. Mastodon gets a lot of credit for being a metal band non-metalheads can appreciate. The same could be said of Baroness.

The band’s song lengths aren’t distractingly epic – “Swollen Halo” is the only song to exceed five-and-a-half minutes – which should be attractive to, say, punk fans. Sure, the record is heavy, but it’s also easy to follow. After the delayed intro of “Bullhead’s Psalm,” the record shifts into turbo with “The Sweetest Curse,” a track that announces its metal intentions without sacrificing appeal. Over crushing riffs, John Dyer Baizley and Pete Adams bark out impressionistic lyrics and generally kick ass. They’re a little less technical or hardcore than Mastodon, but these guys deserve to be appointed Next Indie-Approved Metal Band. That said, Blue Record finds the band occasionally indulging in sounds that some folks might not be able to follow. Call them Metallica moments; times when the group busts out acoustic interludes and chugging riffage. This is of course balanced out by songs like “O’er Hell and Hide,” in which drummer Allen Blickle pounds out a rolling dance beat for most of the song, adding a bit of boogie to all the noodling. Blue Record is very much a crossover album, hinting at the better aspects of metal’s roots while incorporating other genres to form something earthier and more fun.

By comparison, Kylesa’s Static Tensions sounds downright obliterating. The low end is way more powerful here, recalling sludgy acts like Big Business or The Melvins. Just, ya know, with more solos. Album opener “Scapegoat” weaves a double-tracked drum solo throughout the tune, tempering all the bile with something a little more tribal. “Perception” opens with some backwards dialogue (Subliminal messages! Metal!) before hitting the band’s trademark grinding style before segueing into an ethereal section. Guitarist Laura Pleasants adds some otherworldly vocals to the mix, combining with drummer Eric Hernandez’s beats to create a sort of druidic experience. The album is pretty steadfast in its rocking – 40 minutes of butt-whoopin’ – but Kylesa slips in these little moments that A) let the listener know how accomplished the musicians are and B) differentiate Kylesa just enough from the pack to reveal their songs as revolutionary.

Peisner’s article mentions that the scene is starting to splinter as bands move away, but I can’t blame them for doing so. Baroness and Kylesa both released stellar albums last year, and had I been on top of my shit, both would have wound up on my best of 2009 coverage. As is, though, I’ve found a great entry way into a musical scene that I intend to explore.

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