Exhausting Fire suffers from a disproportionate sonic experience in relation to the band’s sound.
Kylesa’s instruments are down-tuned. Their distortion is muddy and fuzzy; pure sludge. Their tempos drone. Their vocals are chanty and trancelike. And they have two damn drummers. They’re one of the heaviest bands you’ll hear and have been for the entire length of their long, prolific career. Exhausting Fire is no different. The record covers all of the above and more. They’re once again doing what they do best: rattling speakers and inducing tinnitus. That’s reliability right there, folks.
The issue is, after six records over 15 years, they’ve continually made their music bigger and louder and more deafening. Exhausting Fire unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the potential of their sound because of the limits of the medium. Kylesa’s success lies within the droning, smoky vibe of their music. The album’s production doesn’t capture it properly, however, and the overall work suffers as a result.
Exhausting Fire opens with “Crusher.” The song is exactly that. It’s a palm-muted trudge into the dark with a hammer-on/pull-off riff that revels in its simplicity. Laura Pleasants’ vocals are down deep in the mix, haunting the track. Her light, breathy voice makes the song downright eerie amidst the grim mood. It’s quintessential Kylesa.
Moving forward through “Inward Debate” it becomes clear that there’s nothing new here. Kylesa’s style, however, doesn’t need a tremendous amount of progression record to record. This is a band with the ability to make their music feel fresh by focusing on theme. They create different moods with each release that separate every new record from the last. Focused on the idea of rebuilding after exhaustion, this album feels as if there’s been new energy injected into the music. That theme is exemplified in “Moving Day.” This song is as close to upbeat as Kylesa gets. Heavy and beautiful, the track is one of the best on Exhausting Fire. Uplifting and muddy, this tune is the key to unlocking the depths of the record’s thematic elements by being bits of everything they’ve been and tweaking them all to become something new. I’d use a phoenix metaphor here, but, come on.
The band steps up their psychedelic game with “Falling.” Dreamy and bleak, it’s a perfect companion piece to the earlier tracks. Trading gloom and doom for an ethereal darkness for the majority of the track, it flows into a muddy stomp late in the tune for a satisfying release from the dreamscape. It regresses back to the delay soaked guitars for its final seconds, bringing the track full circle nicely.
“Night Drive” and “Growing Roots” both smack of ‘90s grunge slow-dripped over their Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd influences. Not exactly upbeat, but not grim enough to match the rest of Exhausting Fire, these songs serve the overall theme by creating a sonic ebb and flow of pulling out of an exhaustive state. They standout because of their shifts in temperament. They are perfect mid-record tracks that serve the overall project in their pacing and thematic depth.
As good as these songs are—and, really, they’re pretty excellent—the album’s impact is mired by the production. Even worse? The production isn’t bad. It just doesn’t create the wall of sound that Kylesa needs to be effective. Yes, there are two drummers, but the beats are muddled by the excess instead of sounding as huge and imposing as they should. The guitars and bass are noisy and gritty, but they fall flat instead of being the massive, chest-vibrating explosions they could be. This argument may be nitpicky, but Kylesa’s power comes from the atmosphere their music creates. It’s supposed to engulf; make the listener live inside the Armageddon sounds. A Kylesa record needs to be an experience, not simply a record to pop in and consume. Unfortunately, Exhausting Fire suffers, not from a lack of song quality, but from a disproportionate sonic experience in relation to the band’s sound.