Every once in a blood moon a band comes along who stands on the shoulders of giants, embracing the traditional metal foundation built by bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica while infusing a modern and original approach in style, content, and production values. Mastodon comes to mind, whose simpler riffs and classic flair would come off as derivative and boring in the context of any other band. There’s an intangible aura about them that gives their songs and aesthetic a limitless appeal. Gojira and Meshuggah both follow suit in their own way, dripping with an “it” factor; a charisma that cannot be taught. Enter the UK’s Sylosis, a band carving their niche into the annals of metal history with each successive album, slowly and patiently honing their craft with surgical precision. Their latest effort, Dormant Heart picks up right where Monolith left off, albeit with a more dynamic, concise, and exacting vision.
According to singer/guitarist Josh Middleton, Dormant Heart deals with the herd mentality of society, the way people accept things as they are, as if on autopilot. Opener ‘Where the Wolves Come to Die’ trods the trad metal path in melody and broods in pace, setting a serious, yet sad tone for the album that mourns for the loss of individuality and rebellion Middleton speaks of. The guitar harmonies sing with the spirit of early Metallica, something the band wears proudly on their sleeve. The mix is flawless, with Middleton at the producer’s helm, Scott Atkins assisting with engineering, and TesseracT guitarist Acle Kahney handling mastering duties. The guitars cut with just the right amount of saturation for each precision picked note to stand on its own. The drums are huge and roomy but still tight enough to lock with the guitars and bass, highlighting the atmosphere provided by the occasional synths and ambient guitar passages.
One notable difference with Dormant Heart is the breathing room, with the band letting off the gas pedal a bit to show a more versatile side than the incessant thrash attack so prominent on earlier releases. This change lends to the gloomy, earthy, and epic atmosphere of the album. This is not to say that the speed metal gallops and chuggalug riffing aren’t still present in spades, but there is far more balance. Second track ‘Victims and Pawns’ picks up from the somber mood of ‘Where the Wolves Come To Die’, with enough thrashy vitriol to satiate the most die hard old school fan’s appetite. The thrash assault continues through the title track, interspersed with melodic breakdowns that crescendo to thunderous reanimations. This trend appears throughout the album, reinforcing the vigorous and dispirited tone.
‘To Build A Tomb’ boasts a beginning riff straight out of the middle-east, the harmonic minor feel enhanced with layered acoustic and electric guitars in true Mastodon fashion. Somehow these borrowed ideas never seem subsidiary, and nestle perfectly into the confines of the album. ‘Overthrown’ is perhaps the strongest track, summing up everything Dormant Heart has to offer. A little speed metal, a little mosh, a shitload of epic, and a venomous chorus more contagious than the common cold. Middleton is on fire here, spitting his lyrics with ferocity and passion that comes perfectly complimented by the throaty vocal production. The vicious ‘Indoctrination’ is the best example of the throaty mix, with Middleton bellowing an Anselmo-esque “errrgh” over a breakdown between jackhammer verses.
Thankfully the vocals are broken up with more tuneful bits, like the sing-scream chorus of ‘Leech’. The most welcoming surprise comes with closer ‘Quiescent’, with Josh exorcising a soft and mournful side through beautiful clean vocals that cascade over pearly acoustic riffs and ambient pads. One can’t help but wonder how the album would have fared with more passages like this, or even how a one off album in this fashion would translate in the scheme of their catalog. Regardless, it’s a testimony to the growth of the band as songwriters.
One of Sylosis’ best qualities has always been the guitar solos, and Dormant Heart is chock full of precision picked, finger-stretched madness. Middleton is a true craftsman in his melodic ideas, carefully placing each lead note for maximum earworm potential. His solos sing and soar, and are never flashy for the sake of it. Even the most ripping parts make sense in the context of the song. The double tracked, wide interval runs of the solo on first single ‘Mercy’ particularly standout, enveloping the listener with a chorus like effect. ‘Harm’ boasts a harmonized arpeggio passage near the end of the track, complemented with subtle singing underneath that exhibits Middleton’s astounding level of talent.
Dormant Heart is a metal tour de force: dynamic in sonics and intensity, deep in scope and emotion, and unrelenting in ferocity. It is simultaneously beautiful and barbaric. Most bands of their ilk do not hit their stride right away, instead taking their time to perfect their vision and mature as songwriters and performers. For some it takes upwards of three to four albums to become bonafide heavyweights in their league, and Sylosis is just about there. The term “underrated” gets thrown around in regards to them quite often, and Dormant Heart is a modern metal classic that will be impossible to ignore.
Sylosis’ Dormant Heart gets…