Syk – EarthFlesh


Italian quartet, Syk, are an example of perseverance. Signed by Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records for their 2016 sophomore album and lauded as the next big thing in progressive death metal, they played the prestigious Roadburn Festival and toured with Godflesh. Then, after 2022’s triumphant Pyramiden LP, their charismatic vocalist, Dalila Kayros, departed for personal reasons. Many wondered if Syk could continue without her, but founding guitarist, Stefano Ferrian, took over microphone duties, continued to write for the fourth album, and landed a deal with Season of Mist. Now, the band have a new rhythm section and a new direction. Their unfinished business gives them a burning desire to lay their marker on the progressive extreme metal landscape.

As if to announce their return, Syk start their new record with a song title that lives up to its billing. ‘I Am the Beast’ is moody and temperamental, beginning with atmospheric keyboards and e-bow samples that float through the mix like souls in limbo as a sauntering female voice ruminates in the background. You’ll gasp for breath when the blast beats and atonal guitars kick in at 01:30 before finding a laborious doom metal groove. Ferrian’s vocals are muscular and menacing. Behemoth are a clear influence on this band, yet they also take inspiration from Meshuggah and add their own mystical spin on the famous sound. Does this music have an evil presence? Yes, it does. Ferrian has a fierce rasp that can melt the skin on your face.

We know that the rhythmic capabilities of this band are remarkable, but they like to keep you guessing in ‘Where I Am Going There Is No Light’ by embracing the dissonance of black metal over the top of a death metal framework. Listen to the guitar intervals wail like decrepit machinery before the reset at 01:55 to a brooding clean guitar. This allows them to accelerate once more into the blast beats with an element of surprise. Navigating the fine line between panic and self-empowering aggression is the challenge they set for themselves on EarthFlesh. The ferocious drums and crunchy discordant guitars of ‘I’ll Haunt You in Your Dreams’ remind you what Gojira ought to be doing on their next album if they want to stay at the top of the food chain. Ghostly female vocals haunt the background like unspoken words that must be suppressed in the interest of covering up a regrettable atrocity. The plectrums pluck the strings of the arpeggios like engineers testing the efficacy of pylon cables in an annual infrastructure check.

You’re never sure if Syk want you to suffer in their progressive death metal domain are feel empowered by it. The slithery drop-tuned guitars in the title-track guide you through a frosty maze but expect your brain to work out the rest of the journey. Guitar notes gurgle in a marshland of distortion. This song conjures images of a tortured man transforming into a superhuman colossus. Labelmates, Autarkh, would be proud of the claustrophobia created here. You wouldn’t say this music is ugly, but you cannot deny that it thrives in cruelty. Cynic might sound like this if they embraced the eight-string guitars and eliminated the spiritual elements of their art.

The musical eco-system of Syk is one overseen by a cruel God who likes nothing better than to watch his human flock fight each other in a game of survival. Can they overcome the imaginative tribulations to which he subjects them? ‘The Cross’ feels like the experience of an atom bomb survivor who has no sight in his eyes and a critical level of dehydration. You can you feel your biceps bulge in response to the chunky guitars and slimy rhythms of ‘For to Themselves I Left Them’. The prospect of pushing that boulder uphill with all your might seems less daunting with this music piping through your ears.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of this record is concealing the Meshuggah influence that informs the core of the band’s sound. Side B of this album dispenses with the subtle black metal elements and locks itself in a puzzle of thick guitar stabs and muscle-flexing vocals that could collapse under the strain at any moment. You’d hesitate to utter the word “djent”, but it would not be wrong, either. Yet closing track, ‘The Passing’, returns to the distressed beauty of the female voice that appears throughout the album in brief moments of introspection. Syk are on to something here, even if it appears to be in flux and has yet to realise its final form.


Verdict


Release Date: 10/05/2024

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Where I Am Going There Is No Light; EarthFlesh; The Sermon

Suggested Further Listening: Meshuggah – Immutable (2022), Hierophant – Death Siege (2022), Aeffect – Theory of Mind (2023)