We Love Music: Kylesa @ Black Cat Backstage, 1/20/11

All photos by Michael Darpino

Obviously, last week in DC’s music scene was all about Dismemberment Plan. Except for on Thursday night when a hundred or so dedicated metal fans packed the backstage at Black Cat, oblivious to any legendary reunions, for one of metal’s best new bands. Kylesa brought a set full of huge metal anthems that would’ve been large enough to entertain a festival-sized crowd.

Kylesa are one of the bands at the forefront of a new style of “sludge metal” that’s emerging from the South. Sludge metal takes elements from doom metal that were once too grim and frostbitten for the average listener, and adds the styling of psychedelic rock to create something more fun and exciting. You get dark, brooding riffs cranked up loud combined with bright melodies and screaming lyrics instead of demonic growls. Also, everything is played faster – fast enough that only the truly talented can crank out the riffs with such speed. Bands like Baroness, Black Tusk, and Mastodon have been doing this for awhile, but Kylesa has perfected the craft over their ten-year career.

I arrived at the show in time to catch Zoroaster, who I was already psyched about due to their roots in the Georgia sludge metal scene. Their first song was their worst and I was close to writing them off, but later in their set I got sucked into their spiraling riffs and slightly evil vocals. They reminded me a lot of the stoner metal group Sleep, as each track was an epic jam saturated with waves of bass.


Kylesa kicked off immediately with “Hollow Severer”, one of my favorite jams from ‘Time Will Fuse Its Worth’. That song is impossible to ignore, and really set the tone for the rest of the night. If anything, Kylesa’s talent lies in crafting metal anthems that grab your attention and never let go. Most sludge-y, doom metal bands are comfortable taking a riff and jamming on it for several minutes; Kylesa fight against that by adding something fresh every couple bars, such that you’re always on your toes and never falling into complacent listening.


Besides the metal anthems, I really enjoyed when Kylesa fell into full-on psych metal jams; it channeled Tool in a way, with its loose time signatures and dark, creepy riffs. I felt like this was a good balance for the band, as they (and the audience) could take a quick breather before launching into more of the heavy stuff. And oh man, they brought some heavy tracks. “Tired Climb” was awesome and those solos in “Running Red” delivered.


Kylesa’s uses a two-drummer setup and that meant that the entire set was saturated in drum beats; yet somehow it never felt like enough. In true metal fashion, during the bridges in songs, when the male vocalist would take a break from singing, he would occasionally walk over to a small drum setup and bang along with his fellow drummers. During the encore, Kylesa turned into a drum circle, with four guys banging away on drums across the stage. This was an excellent way to cap off a night of visceral metal.


Kylesa encored with a track that was pure psych-metal – a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” – slow and brooding, seemingly building up to something huge. I was totally ready to headbang for a minute or two, but instead, Kylesa gave us a quick dose of the heavy stuff that was over in under a minute. I simultaneously love and hate endings like this, the kind that leave me wanting more.


Overall, I felt like what Kylesa are doing belongs at a huge festival. It was weird seeing them in a packed, small venue like the Black Cat Backstage. Their jams are crafted well, with enough elements to appeal to a wide variety of fans of heavy music. As I looked around, I could see a couple guys really getting into the music, rocking out with body parts flailing. But no mosh pits ever broke out or anything. Throughout the set, I would watch the singer go back and drum for awhile, and I wanted to do the same – I wanted to rock out with this band, but there just wasn’t enough room. So when’s the stadium tour, guys?


Martin Silbiger

Martin moved from Atlanta to DC in 2007. He works as a software developer for Soundexchange, a non-profit royalty administration organization. A self-proclaimed metal snob, Martin loves bands that push into unexplored territory. He also writes about pop culture here.

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