Sylosis have been one of the few bands bridging ‘popular,’ festival-headlining, metal with self-proclaimed high-brow or underground metal in recent years. You’re just as likely to encounter flat-cap toting hipster types as you are long-haired, neck-bearded ‘purists’ in the crowds of one of their gigs. Taking a populist metalcore formula but executing it with progressive and thrashy tendencies, their début, Conclusion of an Age, hugely impressed me. Hailing from Reading, England, I’ve consistently invested in their releases due to their proximity to where I’m from. Their fanbase underwent explosive growth in 2012 after their third record, Monolith, but it left me cold. Now they return with Dormant Heart and let me tell you – it’s good news.
Sharing more with older, hardcore-influenced metalcore, such as Shai Hulud, than Killswitch Engage or Bullet For My Valentine, Dormant Heart is as far from modern metalcore as they have ventured. It’s more aggressive and darker than their prior efforts, largely foregoing many tropes of ‘core’ bands. There’s nary a catchy chorus nor cheap breakdown for the temporarily trve metalheads to ironically mosh to. Bolstering their metal credibility, the strong thrash overtones in the shredding arpeggios and pummelling percussion are audible on every track. If I had to identify a similar sound for those who demand associations and categorizations, it’s comparable to a slower Testament with beefier and bassier production, sprinkled with The Dillinger Escape Plan-style ‘mathcore’ – “Indoctrinated,” for example. Dormant Heart is the real deal, and will immediately stamp itself on your face.
Further distinguishing themselves from the pack, Sylosis have always played a more technical and progressive style, and this is nowhere more apparent than here. Tasty guitar licks are everywhere, adorning standard melodies, and the core riffing is diverse and memorable. “Harm” exemplifies this, culminating in technically impressive chromatic chords, more akin to melo-death. I’m not exaggerating when I say every song has a neck-pain worthy riff – it’s quite difficult to recommend highlights due to the record’s consistency. Just as critical to the top-notch instrumentation is the excellent percussion. The interesting fills drew as much of my attention as the guitars, such as after the mid-point of “Callous Souls.” The rare quieter moments which slowly layer (such as on “Dormant Heart” and “Quiescent”) are entirely dependent on the drumming, alerting me to how it dictates the pace of the album elsewhere. Rather than being subordinated to the vocal or guitar melodies, the drums clearly received just as much attention.
There is an admirable dedication to scrapping the shackles of modern metalcore, and despite most songs running between four and six minutes, there’s pleasing variety in structure. Dormant Heart avoids simple verse-chorus-verse linearity, with only “Victims And Pawns” repeating a fairly catchy chorus. Even tracks which move to a final pay-off don’t devolve to overblown melodies and failed notions of emotional power (à la Alcest), progressing in a way which feels natural to their style – see “Leech” and “Harm.” The introductory “Where The Wolves Come To Die” sits somewhere between a typical opener and a full track, and closer “Quiescent” fleshes out the few quieter moments into an atmospheric long song which again subverts expectations. There’s variety and surprises, but all feels cohesive.
As suggested earlier, the mixing fairly balances vocals, guitars and drums, allowing each aspect to impress on a technical level. The master, courtesy of TesseracT‘s Acle Kahney, ensures an appropriate heft and crunch to the aggressive guitars. However, I would argue that the DR of 6 hinders the record in the quieter parts, with acoustic and ambient sounds being a little dull rather than standing out. That said, these are few and far between, and the range is perfectly acceptable for the heavier material. Sylosis are back on top form with Dormant Heart. Everything that worked before is back, and their development away from metalcore clichés and into more progressive and thrashy territory lends them greater credibility than previously – at the risk of sounding snobbish. Working as a rich whole or as individual songs, it’s an exceptionally consistent record. I imagine there will be greater stand-outs from the year, but what an excellent way to begin 2015.