SYK – eartHFlesh Review

Bereft of a lyric sheet or any promotional explanation, I’m unsure why SYK chose to spell the title of their fourth album like they have. eartHFlesh draws attention with more than its unusual spelling though, with a dark, provocative cover, and the fact that it marks the band’s signing with Season of Mist. The Italian collective have been steadily building on a groovy, quirky brand of progressive death metal, distinguished largely by the cleans of now ex-vocalist Dalila Kayros. With her gone, and the group pivoting to primarily unclean growls, and a further turn, if slight, towards the more extreme corners of the genre, a new form of SYK emerges for the first time. eartHFlesh is a critical turning point.

Describing this album’s sound is tricky, and even when putting it into the most accurate words I can find, still sounds wrong. Imagine Meshuggah but more fluid and progressive, more dynamic. Imagine Hath, but meaner, less beautiful, chuggier. Lamb of God, but, well, good. It sounds simultaneously familiar and totally new. And it’s because of this paradoxical quality that eartHFlesh can be quite exciting to listen to; somewhat intriguing, but not off-puttingly wacky. It’s groovy, heavy, and stompy, but it’s not brainless, and its forays into the atmospheric offset its concrete chords and jackhammmer percussion with alluring depth. Fronting the snarling, growled vocals of Stefano Ferrian has also been a massive leap in the right direction, fitting the dense, chunky death metal instrumentation far better than the cleans ever did. SYK sound like they mean business.

In this new evolution, SYK manage to reach a level of compelling they have, up until now, fallen short of. It’s in the way they build and layer elements while folding in atmosphere that sells it. With an intro of creeping chords and soft female vocals rising into a cry that brings in the flurrying blastbeats and urgent guitar like a storm call, opener “I Am the Beast” starts things off thrillingly. Forcefully minor melodies spill out from ringing notes and sudden ascents of soloing guitar with bursts of insistent gravity and maybe beauty (“I Am…,” “The Sermon,” “The Cross”). A cascading, offset, sometimes even jerky, approach to guitar parts, and their place recurs across the album (“Where I Am Going There Is No Light,” “I’ll Haunt You in Your Dreams,” “For To Themselves I Left Them”), bringing a constant sense of shifting energies. Rhythm itself is manipulated in brilliant ways, with jerky, jaunty tempos and drum patterns providing a weird, weirdly enjoyable groove to proceedings (“I Am…” “The Sermon,” “The Cross”). And SYK like to play with the way they synchronize (or don’t) the vocals, guitars, and percussion patterns, giving hypnotic emphasis in some places (“The Sermon,” “For To Themselves…,” “”The Passing”) and tension-building excitement in others (“I’ll Haunt You…,” “The Passing”). The drums are magnificent, and it’s a blessing they’re so clear. The backbone for all the twisting and undulating tempos, they’re at their best when united with the rest for rolling circular stretches, if not when filling and rolling like a riled-up octopus.

Given how intense and groovy eartHFlesh is, it’s thus a surprise it doesn’t make much of an impression overall. But it…doesn’t. As one whole piece, songs lose their individuality and blur together homogeneously. This is exacerbated by the fact that SYK can’t seem to keep the momentum going all the way through. The group make several puzzling compositional decisions that stop the train right in its tracks, often extending the repetition of particularly grating instrumental or vocal patterns (“I’ll Haunt You…,” title track), dipping into cleans (“For To Themselves…”), or trying to make disso-death out of djent (“The Passing”). And as sorry as I am to say it, another massive factor in derailing the album’s vibe are the clean vocals. While the female singing is haunting and beautiful in certain, dramatic cases (“I Am…”), they become cringe-inducing in others (“For to Themselves…” “The Passing”)—out of key and downright whiny. But the compositions can, in other places, be so compelling and slick, that it’s maddening experiencing these moments every time I listen.

Focusing purely on the good would allow me to bestow high praise on eartHFlesh. The parts of it that are good, are indeed, very good, and represent leagues of evolution beyond their earlier forms. They sound tighter, meaner, and far more polished. But eartHFlesh is a little too indistinct, a little too unsteady, overall, to come with a glowing recommendation. SYK have done enough to get noticed, however, and with their capacity for evolution, I’m sure they’ve got a monster in the works.

Rating: Mixed
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: Bandcamp | Facebook
Releases Worldwide: May 10th, 2024

« »