Despite a few broadly expected challenges that come with being massively popular and successful from a young age, life is good twenty years deep into the self-propelled world of British musician Josh Middleton as his recently reformed melodic metal band Sylosis returns beyond their split in 2016. Without fully knowing the history of the band leading up to 2016, and not particularly enjoying ‘Dormant Heart‘ (2015) it’d seem that the departure of a few key members weakened the greater resolve of the project enough that an opportunity to feature as lead guitarist in popular progressive metalcore act Architects would dissolve Sylosis. Now I certainly don’t see borders between countries and cultures when it comes to heavy music but, I’d no idea how popular and known these two acts were and wouldn’t particularly take note of Middleton‘s music if not for the fairly constant suggestion that popular classic thrash metal was a major driver for his work in Sylosis. As it turns out a mix of melodic metal, groove metal, and progressive deathcore are better approximations for the development of their sound over the last two decades… In other words, nothing I’d touch in most cases beyond keeping an open mind. Sitting with this album for about three weeks has left me with a host of unsatisfying answers to easy questions and I suppose “the gift of a challenge is any growth resultant” aligns with the greater meaning applied to the themes of ‘Cycle of Suffering’.
What are you doing and why are you doing it? Should be the first question you’re prepared to answer as a musician, a professional, and a participant in any collective society. If the choice is to let commercial music speak for itself then its narrative should be easily divined. In rifling through interviews, videos, and press materials I couldn’t find any genuinely inspiring spark for what’d brought ‘Cycle of Suffering’ into form and Sylosis back from the dead. The given options had a bit of a blurring effect upon the emotional resonance of the album; One interview suggested that when listening to music as a kid Middleton had almost wished he’d ‘lived’ that much, or been affected enough to deliver powerful and passionate music; This’d come not far from frankly stating that life really is good beyond some natural anxiety and empathetic reactions to the world as a whole. No judgment there, most anyone could potentially relate. The second suggestion is that ‘Cycle of Suffering’ deals with anxiety and at least some of the songs aim for a constructive catharsis. I suppose my question as a listener is, why dress up a records message with these exterior suggestions of passion and personal connection? The album is so clearly an outlet for lessons learned since 2016, in terms of modern melodic structures and a clear-as-day focus on technical guitar performances but it is by no means leading with starkly revealing content or connective spirit. Allow your personal experiences and judgments to inform your own reactions, of course.
The scratchy, painterly and plainly mirrored face emerging from the muck on the cover of ‘Cycle of Suffering’ appears in the midst of a bemused smirk, entangled but still managing a symmetrical and seemingly self-conscious reaction. It could symbolize a division of the self or the ‘anxiety doodle on a flight’ that Middleton suggests but under the harshest scrutiny I could manage it gives the impression of ‘forcing it’ while managing the bare minimum inspiration, not digging particularly deep for any emotional power. “Some of us were born to suffer” on the title track in particular rings absolutely hollow with any visible context applied. I’ll be a bit less harsh towards the music itself but I didn’t find the first impression of ‘Cycle of Suffering’ provided any real implication of suffering or the paralysis of being set within a coffin of your own unintentional build. Sylosis as a musical entity are far more melodically viable on this record than any band they’d have been compared to in the past, save some modern Gojira tracks, clearly taking some light cues from the melodramatic style of Architects and working that ache into an easier listening but still aggro ‘melodic metal’ formulae. I can certainly hear the structures of 90’s thrash metal providing the movement of ‘Cycle of Suffering’ but the evolution of groove metal riffs applied to melodic death metal in the late 90’s and melodic metalcore in the early 2000’s is yet a few too many generations removed from the implication of classic thrash influences. Think along the lines of Revocation, Shadows Fall, and Trivium for the bigger picture without necessarily forgetting that Sylosis have deepest roots in the post-millennium generations of modern metalcore.
Intelligible harsh vocals shouted along a plain melody in a monotonous fashion is a majorly stinging knife in the arm for my tastes, where even the melodic vocals maintain an alt-metal rasp that always feels like a call back to ex-thrash metal bands attempting Pantera influenced alternative metal back in the mid-90’s; I’ve long called this the ‘Destroy Erase Improve‘ effect without any particular disdain, but enough discomfort to avoid its tone-deafness. Either personal taste or the drive to appeal to the masses’ expectations of what ‘modern metal’ is confounds the dynamic artistic value Middleton‘s songwriting sense is capable of. There must be a way around this type of vocal because it brutally flattens the impact of each song, save for “Idle Hands” which features some Crowbar-esque doubled verses that fit the tone of that song in particular. With that said, the implication of thrash metal does persist throughout ‘Cycle of Suffering’ with the heavier nods coming in the opening moments of “Shield”, “Invidia”, and “Apex of Disdain” although the formula may shift quickly between elements of melodic death, half-thrash, and what I’d consider progressive deathcore moments. The greater successes come with the songs that bring all of these elements together and focus on the more technical aspects of Middleton‘s guitar work. Since I’d not found the emotional weight of the album convincing, it was all really left up to the performances being memorable or spectacular enough to hold any serious attention.
Though I don’t think ‘Cycle of Suffering’ is enough of a spectacle to pull through its fairly typical production sound and well-trodden style it is a clean and professional recording that showcases a vested interest in combining the digital chug of modern metalcore with airy-but-technical grooves and some easily digested melodic vocal arrangements. I get the appeal for a certain demographic though I may not be it. Without context the average old school thrasher or melodic death metal head will hear an approximation of their passions and find Sylosis lacking. On the other hand, the greater context of modern deathcore and melodic metal sets ‘Cycle of Suffering’ just above average and certainly somewhat more invested and earnest than the majority of similarly achieved acts. I personally still find their sound distant and divested beyond pulling off some impressive guitar runs and doing much better with the melodic drive featured in Sylosis‘ discography but, none of it was revolting or truly unlistenable. The only song that just didn’t fit in the slightest was the closer “Abandon”, as it appeared to give some mild nod to Architects fans who might be on board by association.
So, why bother rambling on for a thousand words if I’d had an inkling Sylosis wasn’t going to be entirely for me? No man ever benefited from a narrow mind or if they did, it was at the expense of a well-rounded reality. It could never hurt to drop the shoulders and let the weight of the ego drop away, receive art in earnest and become more educated at the very least. To be so capable and yet appear dispassionate is no incurable ailment and there should be some commendation for ‘Cycle of Suffering’ largely correcting the path of Sylosis‘ sound and style since 2015. Nonetheless I was not able to connect with this album in any meaningful way despite allowing it to speak for itself. Average recommendation.
Average recommendation. 2.75/5.0
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