(This is TheMadIsraeli’s review of the new album by Sylosis, which will be released on February 7th by Nuclear Blast.)
Sylosis are one of Britain’s all-time great metal exports, and in my mind are undeniably one of the most important metal bands of the 2000’s, the 2010’s, and now. Nevertheless, these guys seem to get a lot of what I see as undue shit from a lot of people. They are often maligned for being boring (whatever that means) and for not doing anything essentially original (not essentially true), and somehow are accused of writing uninteresting riffs despite Josh Middleton, Sylosis’ founder and composer, being one of the post-2000‘s greatest riff writers. He blends an interesting approach to thrash metal and the heyday of pedal-point-riff-driven melodic death metal with the emotive, bruising nature of early metalcore, and further combines that with a post-y sense of ambience and atmosphere that sounds like no one else.
I guess for me, Sylosis has been metal at its most emotionally honest. It’s powerful, melancholy, angry, and arresting, and since the band’s debut, Conclusion Of An Age. I’ve just been unable to stop listening. They combine the technical aspects and the speed of styles of metal dear to me while also being provocatively emotive, which is a hard line to straddle and make it work. I am a fan, to say the least, with a view of their past catalogue as flawless, a band who’ve never written a record that includes a single throwaway song and who’ve always tried to evolve and refine their sound, never staying in quite the same place. They are modern song-writers still attracted to the past, a sort of approach to metal that I admittedly will eat up like candy if the passion is there.
photo by Jake Owens
Sylosis went on hiatus after their last record, Dormant Heart, which came out in 2015. Lots of speculation of course was sparked as to why Josh Middleton would put his own passion project on hold, and there were of course rumors that he was ready to retire the band altogether. He joined Architects for awhile, a WAY more mainstream venture of djent/metalcore that seemed far outside of what you’d expect from him, and there was zero word from him, or anyone else at the Sylosis camp, as to what the band’s fate would be.
I’m only going to speculate myself, but I believe Josh Middleton and the rest of the band had a realization that they had probably pushed their sound about as far as it was going to go without drastic changes. They released a single called “Different Masks On The Same Face” in 2016, a song that was, frankly, pretty underwhelming. If I recall, it was slated to be on what would be the band’s next record, but talk of any new material from the band vanished after that song dropped.
Now we’re in 2020. Sylosis haven’t released new music in five years aside from that single and they announced their return kind of out of nowhere. Quickly approaching is the release of their new record, Cycle Of Suffering, and of course, as soon as I was made aware that we had the promo, I had to consume it. I’ve listened to this album countless times, and I have a lot of thoughts about it.
I feel like Cycle Of Suffering is the product of a prolonged period of introspection, and of a desire to change direction in a more definitive way and mark a new chapter for Sylosis. The fact that “Different Masks On The Same Face” is absent from this record tells me that the band spent a lot of time deliberating where to go next, as that song would not have fit on this album at all. That alone speaks to a distinct shift in direction.
Cycle Of Suffering is, quite simply, a throwback to the more metalcore-oriented style of their EPs Casting Shadows and The Supreme Oppressor. They’ve tuned their guitars back down to D standard from E standard (like on those EPs), and the music, while retaining its technicality and the more modern Sylosis post-y sensibilities, is more mid-paced and more oriented around emotive soundscapes and intense grooves with chugging sections, and, more to the point, simple but effective riffing. This is a very earthy record and definitely feels like a deliberate attempt by the band to recapture their initial spark of inspiration — their roots, as it were.
This isn’t to say at all that the band’s thrash and melodic death metal sensibilities have been completely discarded. Both are still prevalent, but what’s definitively different is that these are now channeled through a metallic hardcore lens and perspective. Where before Sylosis very much emphasized instrumental virtuosity with a balance of hook-based song-writing, this record is ALL about the hook and the soundscapes. It’s a refreshing change of pace for Sylosis, but I admit that I’m not sure how this album will sit with the band’s fandom who’ve been listening to them for a very specific sound.
It’s with this shift that I oddly find myself liking the more traditional Sylosis songs the least. Tracks like the album’s first single “I Sever” or “Invidia” are fantastic pieces of music no doubt, but I am finding myself more attracted to the melodic blunt-force trauma of songs like “Shield”, “Empty Prophets”, and “Idle Hands” that combine mid-tempo D-beat brawn with melancholy ambient melody. The faster songs on this record that speak to me are distinctly more hardcore punk in nature than thrash, focusing on emotive chord work rather than complex riffing at high speeds. Songs like the aforementioned “Shield” and “Devil In Their Eyes” are examples of this, and are two of my favorite songs on the album. There is an absolute standout more traditional Sylosis song on here in the form of “Arms Like A Noose” which benefits from a little bit of a twisted blackened melody carrying it on top of the typical top-tier technical riffing the band are known for.
Cycle Of Suffering ends in fantastic fashion with one of the band’s best closers in “Abandon”. Sylosis have always had an A+ album-closer game, but “Abandon” definitely sits up there in the top 3. It’s a tragically sad, crushingly brutal melodic death-doom song that channels into a lot of stylistic bits that Middleton has experimented with in other projects. A fitting end to this album with its more earthen, melancholic nature.
I do not know where Cycle Of Suffering will rate for other devotees of the band. It makes a distinct shift away from what a lot of metal nerds like myself listened to them for, and pivots more in a direction that is about the ethos and emotion of the music than getting you to admire what good musicians Sylosis are. I just know that, for me, I love it that they are back and I think it was a ballsy and commendable move that instead of coming back swinging, they came back with a new beginning.
Whether this is what they will sound like from now on, or whether they will try to do something different again, remains to be seen, but Cycle Of Suffering is as much of a testament to the power and hook of metal as any of their other works, and for this I am thankful and enthralled. It’s a fantastic record, and it really is the defining album that is kicking off 2020 for me as a metal fan.