Liquify My Brain – Kylesa & friends at Bottletree

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Like a crazed street prophet preaching the world’s imminent demise, a certain Bhamfm.com metal writer couldn’t work the Kylesa/Pinkish Black/Sierra/Capsized show into enough of his regular posts. The sermon was rewritten and given on high, over and over. Yes, words were spoken from the pulpit repeatedly about the then upcoming event…damn the naysayers. In the end, praise be to Jesus, all the prophesying proved true. This stacked metal show – which took place on Oct. 2 at the Bottletree – was a damned interesting, if not quite religious, event. Amen.

Billed as an early show, I arrived before the scheduled start time and was surprised to find Birmingham’s own Capsized already wreaking havoc on the attendees’ eardrums. So yeah, loud is one word. But, what’s needed here is a word beyond loud. What is louder than loud? “These go to 11!” Har, har, har. But what Capsized did to the small early crowd was no laughing matter.

Through the two or three longish, bashing songs I witnessed, their nine-amp floor setup left a lasting (ear ringing) impression. Made up of two guitars, bass guitar, drums and keyboards, there was no doubt of the band’s intent – amplification at all costs. Vocals were pretty much lost while the occasional keyboard flourish or sample would make it through the intense mix. Overall, the chops were obviously there, and substantive song writing and huge riffs were on display. But it seems the volume worked more to hide or hinder their communication with the crowd.

After Capsized wheeled their armada of amplifiers from the club floor, three-piece Sierra took to the stage. A doom group from Canada, they straddled the line between flashback acid rock and typical stoner. In the live setting, I was mainly impressed with the bass player. As a retired tuba player, I really appreciate when a bass player goes beyond the typical “donk donk donk donk” framework. Here, skinny dude put his bass through the paces; fingers flying everywhere as the drummer and guitarist worked through their assorted grooves. In an era when the metal world is flooded with Pentagram/Sabbath clones, Sierra didn’t really offer anything that blew me away. Their set was solid, but it didn’t propel me to drop coinage on an album or T-shirt.

Next up was Pinkish Black. Uhhhh…okay. This duo from Texas is made up of a startlingly good drummer and another guy with a stack of keyboards. While the drummer figuratively destroys his drum set, the keyboardist/vocalist sings/chants over loops and experimental sounds. Think musical anti-music that occasionally hits on a pleasant groove. The strangest thing here isn’t the music – electro and keyboards have been a part of the underground scene for decades – the strange thing is the band’s association with metal. Signed to Century Media Records and touring with sludge titans like Kylesa, I guess the point is the band is only a step or two away from the blackened shoegazers and droners (e.g.: Alcest, Deafhaven, Om). Sure, the connection is there, but it’s tenuous. Here, Pinkish Black’s set was a decent change of pace, if a bit puzzling at times.

Finally, headliners Kylesa emerged and began the tiring process of setting up all their guitar pedals. It may be a slight exaggeration, but the stage seemed to be positively claustrophobic with guitar pedals. As the crowd gathered, more than one person whipped out a cell phone and took pictures of the prodigious electronic layout. No real complaints here. Heck, maybe these clickers, blippers and lights are the trade secret to the band’s sound.

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Honestly, I now wish I had access to Kylesa’s full set list from the Birmingham show. There’s no time to take mental notes once their bass player, double-drummer, double-guitarist, double-vocalist battle tank cranks up and smears your brain on the back of your skull. The band mines (and I think masters) the grinding soft/LOUD/soft/LOUD dynamic that their musical ancestors delivered to the metal world decades ago. Years of road-dog touring and a commitment to studio experimentation have helped Kylesa formulate their own unique sludge/doom-based sound. Using the ore uncovered by innovators like The Melvins and Neurosis, Kylesa have refined the genre’s touchstones and developed a musically respectable yet punishing sound. More than once at the Bottletree, I was floored all over again by the band’s heaviest moments.

And, even after years of practice and recording, there is still a primitive/unevolved quality to Kylesa’s songwriting and playing. The spacey guitar leads are ethereal, the vocals are clean and inviting…but when the band’s rhythmic Ley lines converge, God help anyone in front of them. Rudimentary, cooperative and heavy as a boulder. While some bands of this ilk rely on layers and layers to build this type of sonic overload, Kylesa call upon their basic instrumentation and (I think) primal understanding of this genre of music to create lead-heavy moments of pure metal bliss. As the set list jumped from older songs to tracks off ‘Ultraviolet,’ I freely admit to raising my arms and praising the good Gods above (or below) for the torrent of mind-melting riffs.

Sound wise, this was one of the better sets I’ve seen from the band. While the inclusion of clean vocals was a challenge in the live arena on previous tours, Laura and Phillip both seemed comfortable singing (and screaming) as the night progressed. Quite a feat considering the monitor setup appeared to be patchy at best. For her effects-heavy guitar solos, Laura frequently had to stand directly in front of her amp to hear. But, the PA mix was decent, and it was obvious the band was well-practiced and tight.

Personally speaking, I am a bit sad writing this review because I’d love to see this Kylesa set again and again. This was my fifth time seeing the band live, and it was my favorite set so far. Were I not a wage slave, I would abandon my puny responsibilities and allow Kylesa to bash my brain nightly from coast to coast. But, personal bias aside, this was an interesting and rewarding night of music in the Magic City. Here’s hoping our fair city hosts more molten heavy tours like this in the not-too-distant future.

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