Few bands have pulled off an unforeseen reinvention with the same defiant aplomb that Sylosis have in the past few years. With the departure of vocalist Jamie Graham in 2010 after making significant headway in the industry, bagging a record deal with Nuclear Blast, high profile tours and slots at Download and Sonisphere in 2009, Sylosis were presented with the unenviable task of replacing their frontman.
While the heavy metal motorway is littered with surprise success stories of this ilk, namely Iron Maiden, Killswitch Engage and Faith No More, they are far outweighed by the stories that get run over by the oncoming lorry of indifference. With the possibility of a life confined to a day job looming over their heads, Sylosis threw themselves into the traffic and landed firmly on their feet, not by so much as replacing Graham but simply moving lead guitarist and chief songwriter Josh Middleton over to vocal duties and remaining a four piece, arguably a more risky proposition with greater responsibilities than introducing a new face to an established fanbase. Josh would have to prove he could simultaneously back the Sylosis brand up with their ferocious modernised take on thrash metal and not only handle vocal duties, but also in essence be the face of the band.
And prove it he did………. Sort of.
The positives of Josh as the new Sylosis frontman were instantly evident. Compared with Jamie Graham’s standard modern metal scream, Middleton possessed a roar far more in the vein of Scott Kelly or even Burton C. Bell, which gave the band a dimension beyond the cookie cutter 1986 worship of their thrash revival peers. In addition to this, the impressive if unremarkable thrash workings of Conclusion Of An Age, the band’s debut, were renewed through a more progressive filter on Sylosis’ first outing with Middleton at the mic, Edge Of The Earth, with a focus on technical, sinewy riffs and adventurous structures. The problems? Josh, at the beginning at least, was the archetypal reluctant frontman, much like James Hetfield’s early days in Metallica. In place of Jamie’s stage presence and impassioned performances came Josh’s mostly guitar-driven on stage persona, with minimal between-song banter. And furthermore, in spite of Edge Of The Earth’s obvious quality, it was a bloated affair that demanded almost too much of its listener, with 14 tracks that very often breached the 5 minute mark. In the past year, however, Middleton has jumped leaps and bounds ahead of the muddled, conflicted frontman we were greeted to in 2010, as proven by a triumphant performance opening the main stage of Sonisphere 2011, and Monolith attests to his growth as both a songwriter and a vocalist.
While it does clock in at a similar length to its predecessor, the difference comes in how evenly they’ve distributed the wealth of ideas and also how much more consolidated the songwriting is, with more repeating sections against Edge OF The Earth’s barrage of riffs, as well as a little diversity alongside the standard thrash and widdly guitar motifs. Granted, the album opens typically enough with a reverb-drenched clean intro straight out of the black metal textbook giving way to a collision of staccato riffs, hammerhead drumming and the sound of Middleton destroying his own voice box on the spectacular ‘Out From Below’, and the band still wear their influences on their sleeves occasionally, showcased on the worshipping-at-the-alter-of-Mustaine stylings of ‘Fear The World’, which comes replete with church bells of all things. But the first welcome addition to the Sylosis musical vocabulary is the occasional foray into doomy, slow-paced riffs and chord sequences, as found on the wonderfully dark ‘What Dwells Within’ and the brooding title track, serving as the break in pace that Edge Of The Earth in all its greatness sorely needed.
However, it is how much attention Sylosis pay to melody on Monolith that could make or break the album in most fans eyes. It’s not uncommon at this point to hear Josh bark out a lyric so violent in its attack but with such an urgent underlying melody (perhaps yelling in key would be a better description) that it would give Joe Duplantier a run for his money, and mid-album highlight ‘Paradox’ proves he is in fine form on album number three, but the moments on Monolith were Middleton actually tries his hand at singing generally leave a lot to be desired, defiling what could otherwise be strong, mood-enhancing melodies with autotune, the amount of which suggests a poor singer rather than a need to add a glossy finish for the radio. That being said, it does little to derail the album’s momentum as we become awash in the shimmering cascades of guitar on ‘A Dying Vine’, before being sent hurtling through a masterclass in carpal tunnel inducing fretwork on ‘Born Anew’.
But the album’s true calling card comes in its hidden track, which you’ll find about two minutes after the chug in the climax of the epic ‘Enshrined’ fades out (sorry to spoil the surprise!). Despite the aforementioned autotune, the hidden track is a proper metal ballad in the vein Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’, which see’s the band utilizing its penchant for clever chord structures in a far more subtle fashion, and put simply, it’s wonderful. The fact that it’s outro reverts right back to the intro of ‘Out From Below’, truly bringing the album full circle, is testament to the bands understated intelligence.
Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that Sylosis have yet to create their masterpiece, the definitive work that will see them transcend the thrash metal tag and simply become one of modern metal’s best-loved bands. Evile made a spirited attempt at this with last year’s fantastic Five Serpent’s Teeth, but the fundamental difference between Sylosis and their contemporaries, from Evile to Municipal Waste, is that while everybody else despite their best efforts seems to be afraid to stray too far away from the ever-imitated sound of 80’s thrash, Sylosis have their eyes set to the future far more than any other band in the “new wave of thrash metal”, if you will, and the potential to have true influence over the genre one day is omnipresent on Monolith.
This is why Sylosis, in this scene at least, are undoubtedly the leaders of the pack, and if there’s one band to come out of the thrash revival you can put your money on, it’s them. We suggest you place your bets now.
Monolith is released on the 5th October 2012 via Nuclear Blast Records
1. Out From Below
2. Fear The World
3. What Dwells Within
4. Behind The Sun
5. The River
8. A Dying Vine
9. All Is Not Well
10. Born Anew