Who remembers when Sylosis burst onto the scene with 2008’s Conclusion of an Age? Five fresh-faced Metallica worshippers from Reading glared with the bite of Sepultura and hissed like a younger incarnation of Trivium. It felt like England had the best thrash metal scene in the world. But, after many line-up changes, you could be forgiven for thinking that 2015’s Dormant Heart would be the swansong of a band with much promise and no way to achieve it. Founder member, Josh Middleton, joined Architects in 2016 as their permanent lead guitarist, leaving many to wonder if the Sylosis project had anything left to give. They had a record deal with Nuclear Blast and the support of Kerrang! but not enough time to pursue new music until the triumphant return with album number five, Cycle of Suffering, in 2020. Now, Middleton has quit Architects and can concentrate on his main artistic passion like it’s 2008 all over again. In that time, Sylosis have become an unofficial supergroup featuring members of Conjuror and Bleed from Within. Is this a new dawn for the band?
Middleton is clear that he wants Sylosis to be his main focus and has big plans for them to take things to the next level. You can hear this in lead single and opener, ‘Deadwood’, which aims for a chunky Machine Head blast of righteous anger. “Face down in the dirt again / What’s to gain from being the last one standing?” he roars into the microphone. Like the last record, this one continues with the drop-tuned guitars, which might annoy some of the long-term fans who enjoyed hearing them thrash away in E standard on their earlier albums. We know that Middleton left Architects because he had reservations about the musical direction of Britain’s biggest metalcore band, yet you can hear their influence on the chorus to ‘A Sign of Things to Come’. This track displays some of the crunchiest palm-muted riffs this side of Dying Fetus and shreds through a guitar solo as if doffing its cap to Phil Demmel and Robb Flynn. The lyrical imagery is clever: “I’m beginning to see my own reflections in my adversaries.”
This album is an attack on the misuse of political power and its consequences. “We’ll never be your saviours / Pariahs / We took the fall for your failures,” screams Middleton in ‘Pariahs’. ‘Poison for the Lost’ takes umbrage with the link between political populism and incompetent government. “You can’t fix the broken / If you don’t understand the problem / Sorry state of affairs / Oh, God – what a mess / Your time is up.” The former could be from any 1990s thrash album in the aftermath of Burn My Eyes. Listen how the latter writhes with a stunning Bolt Thrower/Memoriam throttle of the guitar strings.
There’s no doubt that Middleton’s time in Architects taught him how to structure his songs into anthems. The transition from bridge to chorus in ‘Descent’ shows an advanced grasp of songwriting with a meaty slide technique in the main riff to keep your head nodding up and down. Four of the first five songs are video singles, nearly all of them flawless in their execution. But the problem arises at track six (‘Absent’), where it appears Nuclear Blast sent Middleton to the famous Melissa Cross for singing lessons. Here, Middleton sounds like a replica of Robb Flynn in the album’s risky ballad song. The atmospherics and electronic percussion are quite eerie, but the lack of originality leaves it lingering like the exterior of an unfinished skyscraper.
The second half of A Sign of Things to Come is weaker than the first part, but the standard is still high enough to raise a fist to the sky. ‘Eye for an Eye’ would be much more memorable as a piece of sharp detuned thrash if Middleton didn’t start the chorus in an unnatural tenor voice and then abandon it halfway through the phrasing. ‘Judas’ could be from the latest Orbit Culture record, but it lacks the wow factor of the Swedes’ latest effort. ‘Thorns’ contains the best solo on the album and experiments with up-and-down dynamics, but Middleton struggles to force the words from his stanza into a musical passage of voice. These won’t be as irksome on repeat listens, but they stay at the back of your mind as you wonder if the band’s decision to concentrate their new sound on a Machine Head groove is the right thing to do. In fairness, it might well be. Evile produced a stunning LP this year by structuring it around the Black album, so why can’t Sylosis stage their rebirth by using Robb Flynn and co. as their creative guide?
They have the support of the world’s preeminent metal label behind them and many friends and admirers. It’s good to have Sylosis back as a serious musical force. A Sign of Things to Come isn’t quite the second coming it promised to be, but it has some fine moments of metallic muscle. The band’s future looks healthy again.
Release Date: 08/09/2023
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Standout tracks: Deadwood, A Sign of Things to Come, Poison for the Lost
Suggested Further Listening: Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds (2014), Bleed from Within – Shrine (2022), Orbit Culture – Descent (2023)