Hard-rockers Kylesa have never been ones to chase a trend, but thanks in part to the efforts of their Georgian neighbors to the north, the Savannah quintet finds itself caught in a riptide of the musical zeitgeist. Like Atlanta's Mastodon, Kylesa's sound mixes the ponderous throb of sludge metal and hardcore's aggression with an unusual, experimental flair which proves more psych than prog.
The blend has defined the septet's sound almost since its inception eight years ago, and reaches an apogee with its fourth album, "Static Tensions." Released in March, the new disc showcases greater levels of melodicism, particularly with the vocals, and a chewier vibrancy that's spacier and less shackled to a molten metal churn.
The group formed from the ashes of '90s grindcore act Damad, with the catalyzing addition of guitarist Laura Pleasants. Intervening lineup changes have left Pleasants and guitarist Phillip Cope as the only remaining original members. The name comes courtesy of their original drummer, Christian Depken, who suggested a variation on the Buddhist term "kilesa."
"It means demons of defilement " anything that would hinder one from reaching a state of enlightenment, like greed and aversion. We thought it had a pretty dark meaning to it, which fit the sound that we were producing," Pleasants said.
The band began with the idea of not employing a single or primary lead singer, but rather having each member contribute vocals. In the beginning, bassist Brian Duke handled most of them, as Pleasants said she and Cope were "were just kind of getting our feet wet with it."
But Duke died suddenly, during an epileptic seizure, casting a pall over Kylesa's self-titled 2002 debut. Corey Barhorst replaced him, and over time, the vocals became more evenly shared.
"Then the last record (2006's "Time Will Fuse Its Worth"), we really just kept it to myself and Philip. Now it's kind of leaning more on two vocalists, but we still use a third every once in a while," Pleasants said.
That album signaled a number of dramatic changes. The first when Kylesa was looking for a drummer to replace the departing Brandon Baltzley. They started begun jamming with local friend Carl McGinley, while auditioning other drummers at the same time. By the end of the process, the group found itself with two drummers, McGinley and Jeff Porter, who's since been replaced by Eric Hernandez.
"It was such a new thing, having two drummers, and we started writing right away when we got those guys together, so we were really just kind of tapping into some new ideas that really weren't realized until 'Static Tensions.'" Pleasants said. "With that one, we wrote with two drummers in mind, but also more of a traditional song structure in mind."
The greater song-based focus produced a tightly wound sound that channels driving guitars in a less discursive direction. She said the crisper arrangements are the product of the band members' maturing skill as songwriters, as well as taking more time to arrange the songs, even road-testing several of them.
"It was always such a deadline and schedule that I felt a lot of times we were rushed. We had time to really flesh out the songs and the ideas this time, and also sit on the material a little bit and play a lot of it live. That helped tremendously," Pleasants said. "We really just came to the realization that we know what's working and what really hasn't worked, and we just kind of became better editors of our music."
Kylesa with Tombs, Bison BC and Los Hijos Del Diablo perform at 9 p.m. Sunday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker