For me, Sylosis have always made more sense as a live band. Their swirling combo of brutal riffs, intricate solos and breakdowns made perfect sense in the midst of a mosh pit, but on record that intensity is lost, and most of their records end up being enjoyable but lacking the killer spark.
But on their new album, Dormant Heart (Nuclear Blast), the band have finally added the missing element to their sound: killer songwriting. The usual mix of thrash, and melodic death metal with progressive elements have all been retained, but what sets this apart from prior releases is the ambition. The songs are better, the already impressive solos are tighter and the vocals more thought-out.
Where previous albums were pretty much all played at breakneck speed, the band bring down the tempo for much of the album. The likes of opener ‘Where the Wolves Come to Die’, ‘To Build a Tomb’ and second single ‘Leech’ are all slow, deliberate crushers and throughout Dormant Heart, you can hear the band moving on from pure aggression and adding a heavy, almost gloomy atmosphere.
There are still plenty of all-out thrashers though – the likes of ‘Victims and Pawns,’ ‘Indoctrinated’ and ‘Callous Souls’ would have been stand out tracks on any of the previous albums, but the record has far more variety in tempo and style than what’s come before. And of course the solos are breath-taking, it’s always been a strength, but here everything been taken up a notch. Every song features moments of fret-busting brilliance, and it’s hard to pick a standout moment.
As well as stellar music, this is frontman/guitarist Josh Middleton’s best vocal performance by far; the usual deathly growls are present, but he also pushes into clean singing at various points, showing off a side of Sylosis not heard since 2008’s Conclusion of an Age (also Nuclear Blast). On lead single ‘Mercy’ he combines the shred and scream template with a darker melody for the chorus.
The nine-minute closing track ‘Quiescent’ opens with a clean vocals and acoustic guitar, and is so at odds with what you expect from the band that it’s almost enough to question whether you’re still listening to the same band. From there it builds to a heavy and haunting finale.
Since their inception, Sylosis have been one of the brightest hopes for UK metal – few band can combine the fury and hook-laden riffs in the way these Reading boys can. But previous efforts often felt like a collection of awesome riffs and solos with no cohesion. With Dormant Heart, they’re finally starting to cash in on all that potential.