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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.