(DGR reviews the latest album by Sylosis.)
For a long time, there were few bands out there that I was willing to evangelize as much as Sylosis. Long before I ever got into the writing game, I would tell anyone who would lend me their ear about the band — a group I had initially checked out on a whim when my policy for checking out new music consisted of looking into albums that scored an eight and above on Blabbermouth.net’s review scale, a criterion that Sylosis’ 2008 release Conclusion Of An Age happened to satisfy.
To explain why the group held such a strong appeal to me, I have to own up to the fact that three genres were really my entryway into heavy metal, and they were melodeath, metalcore, and thrash metal. It’s probably a common event that those three tend to be the welcome mats, since a lot of what I view as “gateway bands” tend to fall into those genres, but I just had to highlight it, in part because, to be incredibly reductive, Sylosis‘ sound is a combination of those three genres.
I’ve seen them bandied about under a variety of unwieldy word-salad-mouthful genres like progressive-epic-melo-death/thrash and other combinations of the aforementioned genres, but it’s the combination of the three that really drew me to the band’s sound. This means that although I wasn’t there from the get-go (keeping in mind the group’s previous EPs such as The Supreme Oppressor, which holds up incredibly well), I have followed Sylosis for a long time and have generally enjoyed every phase the band have been through, including the guitar-riff-worship church that was Edge Of The Earth and the more passionate and -core heavy delivery of Monolith.
On a rare occasion, you can predict what a group’s next album will sound like using their previously released album — which was new at the time. It’s not incredibly accurate, and a lot of the expectation is mostly holding out hope that the group will recognize what you might consider the strongest songs on the album and run with more tracks in that vein on the next disc. But there’s a sense that if you’re noticing some undeniably strong standouts, then the band probably are, too, and then you play the waiting game to see where they go in the future.
In the case of Sylosis‘ middle-of-January release Dormant Heart, I had four songs in mind that I was hoping the band might use as a guide in writing the next disc. Not parroting them or playing to the cheap seats, but as an overall mood, I felt that four tracks released from the Monolith sessions came out on top and they were: “A Dying Vine”, “Out From Below”, the title song “Monolith”, and the previously released single “Slings And Arrows”.
You’ll probably have noted that in my tastes, the better songs on Monolith were the faster tracks — which I will fully own up to being a true bias. I’m an idiot when it comes to metal and I like when groups write up-tempo tracks. After doing a couple of runs on Monolith I came to the conclusion that if the band were to write more songs pulled from whatever wellsprings inspired those four, then I would be pretty happy with the next disc — which brings me to Dormant Heart, a disc that for the most part does just that but also sees the band slowing themselves down a bit, as well as going for a more atmospheric album, a move that brings mostly good but sometimes mixed results.
One of the more apt genre descriptors that has always stuck with me, and why I mentioned it above, is the idea that there has been an epic sound to the group’s hybrid of various thrash and melodeath stylings. “Epic” is such an odd descriptor, because it can mean many different things and can be achieved in many different ways. Some bands have reached for that quality as a way to make themselves seem larger than they are, by adding orchestras, symphonies, keyboards, and various electronics to their sound in an effort to generate the aura of a huge monolithic force. It can be done well and poorly, sometimes coming off as leaning a little too heavy on the symphonic side to make up for some rote songwriting — but more often than not, when bands have used those techniques to buttress an already pretty good song, then it can work out well for them and make them seem “epic”.
Sylosis, it seems, have earned that descriptor for another reason, which is that these gentlemen have been writing some fairly long thrash songs that loop, intertwine, weave, and collapse back on themselves in the way that bands like Metallica were doing during their …And Justice era and Machine Head are doing now.
Sylosis went big on this during their album Edge Of The Earth, which was so packed full of dense riffs and material that by the end of that album’s fifteen some-odd tracks it felt that if the band had managed to pack one more guitar part into any of the songs it would have served as the next singularity point, triggering the explosion of a new Big Bang and creating a new universe. Monolith, which seemed to pop up incredibly fast in comparison to the gap between Edge Of The Earth and its predecessor, reined it in a tiny bit.
This time around, on Dormant Heart, Sylosis go back to the more epic sound but slow things down a lot, factor in some almost fully clean-sung songs, and add a whole bunch of heavy ambient keyboard swells to their sound. Dormant Heart is probably the most earnest-sounding Sylosis disc and it jumps between two extremes, coming across as the most heartfelt album but also the most vicious, with the song “Indoctrinated” containing some of the most biting and condemning lyrics that the band have in their repertoire.
Dormant Heart sees Sylosis putting out one of their most varied batches of songs yet, coming in at twelve tracks — and fourteen if you have the two bonus tracks — that display a whole swath of different tempos and styles. It feels like an even draw this time, but you have to keep in mind that previous Sylosis discs have leaned pretty heavily on the “go-fast” button, and this time they experiment with the slow and the mid-tempo. That means the faster tracks go by the wayside a little bit, but when they do pop up, they still feel like the strongest songs on the record. It’s the most familiar territory for Sylosis, so that’s probably why songs like “Indoctrinated” and “Victims and Pawns” feel so good.
The slower tracks for the band, which make up much of the album, feature differing sides of the band that we haven’t seen before, and of course this means that some aren’t as strong as they could be. “Mercy”, one of the first tracks that was released, is a bit too simplistic for my taste, and in the grand scheme of Dormant Heart it feels like a blip in between a really strong track in its somewhat fraternal twin “Harm”, the speedier “Callous Souls”, and a truly risky track in the nine-minute “Quiescent”.
“Quiescent” is Sylosis gone doom-and-pensive, with much of that song being clean-sung and very slow-moving. However, it does pull off the trick of making nine minutes feel like nothing and is a very interesting development in the Sylosis camp; it has grown on me since I first heard it. It’s not one I automatically skip to, but when it comes to a full album run, it feels like a good way to bring things back around to the bitter and callous opening of “Where Wolves Come To Die”.
“Callous Souls” is the buffer between “Mercy” and “Quiescent” and it tends to blur a bit into “Mercy’s” end, like a faster bridge just to pick things up a bit lest the back fourth of Dormant Heart come to a crawl. It is, again, a trip into familiar territory, but one of the stronger songs on Dormant Heart with its twin-lead opening and guitar-slide feeling, like they were taken right out of the thrash playbook — but I will take any opportunity Sylosis provide to get some circle headbang action going.
Vocalist Josh Middleton also sounds particularly biting in this song, although he really has come into his own on both Monolith and Dormant Heart. On this new album especially, he sounds harsh and hoarse, like the disc was recorded between the hours of one and three in the morning after a long day and he’s just in the studio screaming his lungs out.
For all the discussion of the dynamics of Dormant Heart’s back section, which admittedly is a strange path for a review to take, the album does have enough comfort food for Sylosis fans spread throughout the album — which may be why I still come out positive on it. The faster songs on the album still contain the trademark Sylosis gnashing of teeth and some that gain speed as the song goes on, actually transforming from a potentially ho-hum, mid-tempo track into a full-bore headbanger. It’s their most-known territory, and it needs to be reiterated that Sylosis right now are still at their best on fast and familiar ground.
The breakneck pace at which the band deliver their sermons of condemnation on the personal aspects of society is second-to-none, and when the group do unleash what ferocity is stored up in the tanks on Dormant Heart it still comes out like molten lead, fiery to the touch. Even though the songs on Dormant Heart sound a little more beefy and simplistic this time around, there is still a ton of passion in the Sylosis sound on this disc, and it is a side that the band do damned well at embracing.
When doing these album writeups, sometimes I like to take a quick detour into the bonus material, which sometimes can be the best material on an album and on occasion just an odd curveball or two. In the case of Dormant Heart, the two bonus songs are “Pillars Erode” and a cover of The Smashing Pumpkin’s “Zero” (which they debuted on a radio stop a year or so before the disc). Those songs have been up and down on YouTube, as the various DMCA takedown requests take their usual path and are then summarily ignored as the songs are quickly re-uploaded to the site, so I figure this is pretty safe ground to tread.
“Pillars Erode” is an interesting track, and with the presence of “Quiescent” you can easily parse out why it might not have initially fit into the album’s flow. It’s a super-slow, meditative, and moody track, pretty much missing all the elements Sylosis are known for and trading in all the speed for a crawling and introspective approach. It’s a mournful song that would’ve made the end of the album take on the specter of a funeral doom disc, dredging the listener through the muck at the bottom of a swamp.
The cover of “Zero”, on the other hand, is largely played straight. “Zero” has always felt like a bit of an anomaly among the grander works of The Smashing Pumpkins, as Billy Corgan has taken the band through all the various permutations of alternative and indie, eschewing a lot of the grunge sound the band initially embraced in their early career while also putting out some amazing albums and huge Gen-X/Gen-Y/who-gives-a-shit-what-gen anthems.
“Zero” is a crushing and angry song by their standards, and largely comes out the same when all Sylosis do is up the tempo slightly and scream it. It’s one of the most heavy metal songs The Smashing Pumpkins have recorded, and I am a tad shocked there hasn’t been a massive spate of covers for it before. Seeing that Sylosis had done a cover of it as a bonus track was pretty much greeted with a nod on my end and an acceptance that I, too, would probably have picked that one as well because it translates easily for a huge return on investment.
On the whole, Dormant Heart feels like the more pensive younger brother of Monolith. It takes a lot of the same cues as that disc did, and at the same time, it sees the band traveling in darker directions. It’s familiar enough, but by the same token, is still a biting and angry disc that reveals the exposure of a very personal side of Sylosis. Many of the lyrics on Dormant Heart are quite targeted and sound as if they’ve been drawn heavily from personal experiences. Since the time of Edge Of The Earth, Sylosis have made their music a much more passionate and visceral version of itself, and not just some amazing guitar technicality and well-written hybridized melodeath and thrash.
While not everything works on Dormant Heart, with some of its slower moments not quite having the impact they should, the group still manage to kick a lot of ass across Dormant Heart, and the disc will line up well with the group’s now pretty-stacked discography. As someone who has followed the band for some time now, it’s been great to see that Sylosis have been able to put out the huge swath of material yet still maintain a high mark of quality. They find new ways on every disc to continue baring their souls at faster speeds than most — and have done so in a short amount of time, almost making people forget about the period when it seemed that the group had gone silent after Conclusion Of An Age.
While Dormant Heart is the more ethereal, emotional, poetic, and intellectual younger brother of Monolith, the album still has a number of ass-kickers in its arsenal. At the very least, the disc has given us “Victims and Pawns” and “Indoctrinated” — two of the most vicious songs the band have now recorded and one of the reasons why I’ve zeroed in on them for much of the review — they alone make Dormant Heart worth the effort.