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Melodically Agressive - 81%

Triptychondrion, May 7th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Nuclear Blast

Before all else, I want to address the elephant in the room: Sylosis sound like metalcore. Josh Middleton (the band's primary songwriter) can deny that as much as he wants to, but that doesn't change the fact that his music is filled to the brim with melodic triplets, dual guitar leads, breakdowns, and clean/harsh vocal switchups. I do not doubt that he dislikes metalcore as much as any functioning adult should, but that's what his end product sounds like. Whether he intended it to be this way or not is irrelevant.

With that cleared out, I can now move on with clear consciousness to the actual review. Sylosis were my gateway to the world of extreme metal. When I first started listening to metal, I abhorred all things that had blast beats and rough vocals in them as I considered people who liked and made this type of music to be knuckle draggers who cared for nothing but brutality, regardless of actual musical merit. However, after stumbling upon the hidden tack on "Enshrined" while going through YouTube, I was surprised to find that this hauntingly beautiful song was the work of a death metal band, and so I decided to check them out to see how that was possible. It took me just 30 seconds into "Out From Below" to get hooked. The melancholic clean intro, the way doomy riffs gave way to a breakneck thrash onslaught, the drum fills, the breakdowns, the face melting solos, and the grandiose outro, were like nothing I've ever heard before. Going into the rest of album, I was surprised to see that these guys did not burn all their talent in a single track, and that they were actually able to offer another 10 songs that did not drastically pale in comparison.

Now to be sure, Sylosis are not out there to reinvent the wheel. If you single out the individual parts that form the body of their musical vision, no one will fault you for saying that they're as generic as you could get. However, taken as a whole, the way these various parts come together might be slightly novel, even if not particularly groundbreaking. Middleton's growled vocals, progressive tendencies, and his apparent passion for doom metal help to make Sylosis feel heavier and more nuanced than your average melodic death metal band, and with subtle atmospheric keyboards and lyrics vaguely inspired by the Greek legends of Orpheus and Eurydice, the music ends up being a little smarter than you would expect it to be. The way he integrates all these aforementioned traits into his all out thrash (or metalcore, depending on how you look at it) attack is what helps set Sylosis above the average power metal band with harsh vocals. Middleton might have nothing new to offer his listeners, but he knows damn well how to do the old tropes, and he makes sure to do them as aggressively as possible.

As for highlights, the emotional solo on "Fear The World" is one of Middleton's best, and the Tool meets Pantera (you rolled your eyes I know) riffs on "What Dwells Within" are quite unique and refreshing. "The River" starts out with a breathtaking intro of celestial sounds that explodes into a flurry of some of the best riffs on this album, and the next track, "Monolith", has what I believe to be Middleton's most entertaining vocal performance ever, and is perhaps the closest the band's ever got to writing a black metal song. The intro on "A Dying Vine" is quite tasty, and the harmonized guitar leads around the 1:40 mark on "All Is Not Well" are a delight to hear. The last track, "Enshrined", is an unremarkable doom number that sadly feels lackluster, even if the acoustic hidden track toward its end retains it's special place for me as my gateway to the world of extreme metal.

With all that said, Sylosis suffers from some serious flaws. Almost all the songs on this album share exact same structure: Clean intro, loud as fuck doom riffs, melodic thrash riffs, harmonized guitar leads around the 1:40 - 1:50 minutes mark, breakdowns, a slow, post-metal mid section with booming drums and clean vocals, a solo, and then more doom riffs that fade out toward the end. Middleton's high quality song writing capabilities might alleviate some of these shortcomings, but his compositional patterns can get quite obnoxious once noticed, and his propensity for writing long albums doesn't quite help on that front either. On top of all that, the generic drums and flat guitar sound, coupled with the over-compressed production, are all sure to make you know that this is a Nuclear Blast album from ten miles away.

In short, there's nothing on Monolith -or Sylosis' entire discography for that matter- that you haven't heard before. The band's balls to the walls aggressiveness does them some help overcoming their shortcomings, and Middleton's guitar gymnastics are sure to delight guitar nerds. Monolith is darker its predecessor, Edge Of The Earth, and thrashier than its doom-ish successor, Dormant Heart, and in my opinion, the band's best work to date. In a perfect world, Sylosis would write 40 minutes albums, get rid of the breakdowns and the slow "thinking man metal" mid sections, and just stick to playing that no bullshit mixture of melodic doom and technical thrash that they do so well. Unfortunately, we do not live in that world, and it seems like we'll just have to be content with the Sylosis we have. These Brits are far from being original, but are just as far from being cliche, and if anything, can always be counted on to deliver some catchy riffs.

Reflective and mature - 76%

gasmask_colostomy, June 17th, 2016

I remember running into Sylosis quite a long time ago, before the release of 'Edge of the Earth', and being very satisfied with their use of fast tempos, melodic guitar work, harsh vocals, and modern sound quality without descending into soulless super-modern metal. What that means is that they tended to sound like contemporaries Trivium or All That Remains and even older bands like Machine Head and Shadows Fall but without falling into the trap of making saccharine choruses too sticky sweet or groove parts too predictable and repetitive. The riffs stayed aggressive, though borrowed heavily from modern metalcore structures, the vocals and leads remained commanding, and whole songs like 'The Blackest Skyline' or 'Withered' had a pleasing sense of momentum and purpose throughout their length.

Now we arrive at 'Monolith', released in 2012, some 4 years on from the material I have just mentioned. In principle, nothing has particularly changed from the previous albums except perhaps for a grander scope to the ideas, as well as that thing that tends to get labelled as "maturity". Here, maturity seems to mean going back to the longer songs and mildly progressive structures that filled 'Edge of the Earth' and taking it a step away from the other modern metal bands' more straightforward formulas, while also imbuing those songs with a degree of emotion that I would term "reflective". This quality stems from the band's liking for fusing their aggressive riff-based ideas to gentler, almost atmospheric devices, especially prominent in the likes of 'Fear the World', the intro and outro of which waft and swell nostalgically, impressing the defiant and threatening lyrics with a drama that leaves room for deeper thought, and ultimately reflection. The same trick is pulled out on the following song too, and this sense of dynamics - both in sonic and emotional terms - comes to characterize much of the album, leaving it more subtle than previous efforts.

The alteration in style means that there is a lot to discover and explore throughout 'Monolith', though also that there is less simple satisfaction from the elements that initially interested me in the band. No more do Sylosis plough ahead through a 4 or 5 minute song with pure riffing and drive, but travel off on several detours that can be pleasant additions or a needless distraction depending on what you seek from the music. However, the level of detail does ensure that the quality of some of the basic elements is elevated too, since the riffs have clear hallmarks of great creativity in places, straying from the generic types of thrash, melodeath, and metalcore riffs that had been used in the past. 'Behind the Sun', for instance, packs a weighty and intricate melodeath punch that uses chugs and spiralling licks to contrast tastefully without losing impact.

Another part of 'Monolith' that has become more pronounced the longer I've listened to it is the vague epic feeling lurking behind the metal riffing and roared vocals. Initially difficult to pick up, there is evidence of a mild presence of keyboard or perhaps processed clean guitars painting a very different backdrop to the energetic modern sound, often adding an elegiac touch to proceedings that seems to fit the Ancient Greek themes of the album cover. The heaviness can build up quite convincingly in a song like 'The River' and then refract outwards into gentler, almost ambient vistas that offer glimpses of strangeness and poignancy quite at odds with the songs original destination. This tendency certainly makes the album more interesting, since there isn't anyone else who really does this in the same way as Sylosis, but it also breaks the focus of some of the more intense numbers. The last few songs on the album are also more direct, meaning that we have a slightly slow start and then a straightahead style to end, which would seem unintuitive, if not actually unhelpful.

Despite these stylistic oddities, 'Monolith' is still a solid modern metal album that uses a limited range of atmospheric and melodic tricks to spice up dated formulas. The vocals don't have nearly as much variation as the guitars, barring a decent semi-clean chorus in 'Paradox', but they are acceptable and leave room for the rest of the band to be active and creative in the way they build songs up, dismantle them, and restructure again. I don't find myself seeking this album out that often, but it has enough to recommend it to the casual listener and to the modern metal connoisseur as well.

Those promising young destroyers of worlds. - 70%

Crank_It_Up_To_666, March 23rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Nuclear Blast

In 2008, Sylosis promised to deliver the very world itself – razed to the ground and on fire everywhere – not with an album, but with an album cover. Heavy metal art has, at a conservative estimate, depicted about two million variations upon the apocalypse (pre- and post- included), but take another look at the cover of ‘The Supreme Oppressor’ and just try to deny that that magnificent image of seraphic destruction doesn’t stand apart from the glut. This band has been aiming to sound as gargantuan as that image suggested ever since.

Granted, a campaign of planet-wide razing and wanton arson takes some time, but it’s taken the band four years to really live up to the promise. The subsequent full lengths, particularly the powerful ‘Edge of the Earth’ all stretched for a goal they couldn’t quite catch, but with ‘Monolith’, Sylosis have finally got their developing thrash antics matured and successfully married to their love for sweeping scope.

‘Monolith’ is not a particularly textured record (at least not in the way of their greatest influence, Devin Townsend), and could really benefit from bringing those faint synthesizer strains a bit further forward in the mix, but it is an album that handles a sense of mood beautifully, shifting from soaring to snarling with absolute confidence and ease. For those who are in it simply for the snarling part, this is the best Sylosis have ever been as a modern thrash band; they’re not the fastest players in the world, but riffs pile upon each other with gleeful abandon and simply pitch perfect aggression. Monolithic stuff indeed.


{Originally published: Soundshock Webzine 14/10/2012}