Against Magazine










SYLOSIS (Interview w/ Josh Middleton)

The UK wasn’t exactly known for Thrash, but that changed in the past few years with acts like Sylosis, one of the most intringuing bands within the current Thrash scene, who made it their mission to keep constantly progressing within their own genre. Against Magazine caught up with singer, guitarist and songwriter Josh Middleton to talk about their latest release “Dormant Heart” and got to know more about the band’s newest direction, technical aspects of their sound, influences and the departure of Rob Collard, among other topics.

Sylosis
Photo: Tom Barnes


Hello Josh! Your records have always been different ever since “Conclusion of an Age” up until “Dormant Heart”, which seems to sound much more atmospheric and melodic, but at the same time even darker at some points. How do you personally feel about the sound of this record in comparison to your past releases?

Yeah, I think you’re right, it’s a lot darker and it was something deliberate. We wanted to make sure that this album had a really dark atmosphere and vibe to it, and that it sounded really sort of dense and oppressive. It’s something that came out naturally and then we wanted to just push it a bit more to see where we could go with it. We listen to all kinds of music, but predominantly Thrash, which is a big part of our sound, like the old Bay Area Thrash stuff, but we also listen to a lot of Black Metal stuff or bands like Enslaved who nowadays are a bit more progressive and have that vibe. Not that we directly have many Black Metal sounds on the album, but in terms of how Black Metal really creates this dark, cold atmosphere, that’s something that we wanted to tap into, and I think we also brought out a few more of the kind of “doomier” influences here and there as well, just trying to do it on our own way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a direction that we’re heading in, more slow and more “doomy”. I think in the last two albums we established the type of band we are and now that we’ve established ourselves and people know who we are, from here on out we can just experiment a bit and give each album it’s own distinctive character. This album is quite dark, it’s got some “doomier” elements coming through, but I think we’ll always have one foot in the sound that we sort of established.

Lyrically wise that album revolves around the concepts of people just going through their lives in a almost numb or dormant state and the occurrence of situations that totally change their perspective on life. Were you inspired to reflect on this theme on the account of what surrounds you or on the account of one of your personal experiences?

I think that, as with most people, the older you get as you leave your teenage years behind, [the more] you start to pay attention to the whole world, watch the news and pay attention to politics and social issues. When you’re a teenager,  you’re kind of wrapped up in your own little bubble - and that includes when you’re in your early twenties and I’m in the last bit of my twenties now - and I think I’m just paying attention more and more to global issues and even environmental issues, and when you take more of a look at the environmental issues, you see where it comes from and a lot of these issues are caused by political things, big corporations and that type of thing, so I kind of have an interest in that area. I really try not to talk about anything too specifically and try to force my opinion on other people because that really doesn’t work well. When you tell someone “Do this” or “Listen to me!” a lot of people, including myself, have the exact opposite reaction like “Don’t tell me what to do”. So I try to dress the lyrics up with metaphors and to create some imagery that could be about anything or just be fantasy lyrics. People can interpret them in their own way. For me, this is something that I rarely bring up because, the moment I bring it up people just assume that I’m the stereotypical preachy type, but I went vegan during the making of “Monolith” three years ago, and the reason I did it was more just because I’m quite nihilistic, I just don’t like people much (laughs), I stay on my own. I watched this video, it had nothing to do with like how I was living my life, I saw some video from people, I think it’s from Japan, just chopping the heads of live dolphins. I don’t buy dolphin meat, no one I know does. It wasn’t like I saw any slaughterhouse video, but it just made me think I really hate humans as a species and since then I’m less hateful towards all people, but I just started to take a look at animal rights and animal welfare and then that leads to environmental issues, like the oceans being destroyed and natural habitats and then, like I said, that goes further and down to corporations and big companies like McDonalds, using huge amounts of land and chopping down rain forests so they can grow cows, all that kind of stuff. I’ll stop talking about that kind of thing now, but that’s where the interest in more political issues comes from, but like I’ve said, I don’t actually talk about that specifically in the lyrics, especially not the veganism thing. If someone had told me “Go vegan” and I had it forced down my throat, then I wouldn’t have done it, so I try to keep that away from the band, but it led me to be more aware of the whole world, how everything works and every facet of my life, every decision I make, how it could affect someone or where my money is going.

You were talking about imagery, a certain kind of imagery you wanted to transmit through your music. Let’s talk about the album cover. Your album covers are always great pieces of drawn out art and the art for “Dormant Heart” is probably the most cold looking and sinister so far. What’s the story behind this cover and how does it relate to some of the concepts that you explored in the record?

It’s got a woman slaughtering a lamb, which again it has nothing to do with dietary choices or veganism, but it’s a very obviously symbolic image. The sacrificial lamb is a something that a lot of people have heard of and there’s a ominous figure in the background. What it implies is that this woman feels pressured into doing this or sticking with something out of tradition just because maybe it’s pressure from society or someone higher above, maybe empowered, but a lot of the lyrics deal with about how a lot of people stick to the same things or stick to a certain laws or prejudices just because it’s tradition, that’s how they’ve been brought up, not really thinking for themselves, or making a stand against it, so that’s kind of what the artwork symbolizes. The artwork is really important to us, we really think about that as much as the music, and it’s really important to us to make the artwork reflect the music and just have a really good package that hopefully people will want to buy the album or buy the vinyl, especially because it’s a good piece of artwork. Ties it all together.

sylosis-dormant-heart
Album Artwork: Bonfire


Lets talk about the use of clean vocals. In some parts of “Overthrown”, “Harm” and especially in “Quiscient” you’re singing with clean vocals and they’re evidence that you’re using them more in Sylosis. Was clean singing something you weren’t quite comfortable with when you first started singing or didn’t think fitted the band’s style before?

It was more of a stylistic thing, I think “Edge of the Earth” was the first time when we really wanted to solidify our sound. From “Conclusion of an Age”, people kind of lumped us in with metalcore bands and that kind of thing. I think having screaming vocals and then singing in the chorus is very formulaic and a overdone kind of thing and we didn’t really want to be associated with that, so on “Edge of the Earth” it was really about being like “This is the type of band we are”, we play old school Thrash, we have a lot of progressive influences, and we tried not just to sound like everyone else. But now, after we’ve established our sound in the past two albums, people get the type of band we are now and we’re not as worried about being mistaken for a different type of band. I don’t know if we’re going to get more and more melodic or have more clean singing, but it’s something that definitely helps. It’s always been a part of our sound, it’s something that just breaks things a little bit, I obviously got better at singing anyway as well as not wanting to do it for other reasons, like I said, in terms of the style of the music we do. But yeah, we always try to do it just here and there in a heavy song so it’s not an obvious singing chorus. I really like to try and pitch my screams so that there’s some melody in the screaming vocals as well, but for the last track “Quiscient”, the acoustic song, we knew we wanted to do an acoustic track properly this time. We done it on “Monolith” as a bonus track, hidden in the very end of the album and it went down really well, so we figured we’d like to explore that kind of area and do more progressive, kind of acoustic stuff, so we just started writing it and when just a few of the parts of the song came out, we realized that this obviously wasn’t going to work in the middle of the album. We had to put this in the end of the album, and knowing that the song was going to be in the end of the album, you’re not really confined to make it fit under five minutes and ruin the pace of the album, so we figured we could really stretch it out and make it a really big epic song to finish the album. I think that acoustic song, with all clean vocals, still has that kind of dark atmosphere that the rest of the album has, obviously in a more melodic way, and I think I’m probably most proud of that song, at least in terms of traditional songwriting, I think it’s one of the best melodic things we’ve done.

One curious thing…You made a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero”. I might be mistaken, but I think it’s the first time a thrash band has ever done a Smashing Pumpkins cover. What made you pick up that one? Would you say that “Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness” is one of the records that influenced you?

It was actually! I started playing guitar when that album came out, I’ve must have been nine or ten, really young, and my acoustic guitar was about the same size I was! I loved all kinds of stuff! Specially when you’re young you don’t have one specific type of genre, so I was listening to Metallica, Pantera, obviously some Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, that kind of stuff, and “Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness”. I was a big fan of that and I think our music has always had this kind of sad melancholic feel to it, maybe that came from Smashing Pumpkins, I don’t know, but I’ve always been into that song. Basically I think it was 2013, we got asked to do a BBC Radio One Rock Show live session where we play a few songs in the studio on the radio and I don’t know if we got asked if we could do a cover, but we decided it would be cool to do a cover either way. In all honesty, it was just the easiest song that came to mind that we felt it would be cool to do something that wasn’t metal and make it a bit different. It was just so easy to learn in a short space of time and we did it on the live session. It was fun to play it, but I knew I could do a better job with the vocals with a bit more time, so I think it was a very last minute thing again to do it as a bonus track for the album, just because it was very easy to record, but I liked the way it turned out! I honestly think that song, if Metallica had recorded the music for that and had put it on the “Black Album”, it would sound like Metallica stadium rock kind of metal, with that kind of dark vibe to it you know? If James Hetfield had put his vocals on it, it would sound like Metallica. The only thing we’ve really changed was screaming the vocals, so that’s how it came about, it was fun to do!

Do you know if Billy Corgan has heard it yet?

(Laughs) I doubt it…

You were just talking about Metallica, and you talked about being influenced by Bay Area Thrash bands, but I imagine, besides Enslaved which is more Black Metal oriented, that you must also have a few other progressive band influences. Which ones would you say were also detrimental to the formation of your sound?

Cult of Luna are a huge influence, the band from Sweden, just in terms of that really epic, ambient kind of sound, loads of delay and that kind of stuff, so Cult of Luna are just hugely inspirational to us and they’re definitely a progressive band but not in the same way that Pink Floyd are, but me and the other guitarist [Alex] Bailey, we listen to a lot of ‘70s prog rock, so there’s bands like Rush…those two albums “Farewell to Kings” and “Hemispheres” by Rush are huge influences on us. We like other bands like Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis…the acoustic song “Quisicient” is quite inspired by a lot of early acoustic Genesis stuff that they used to do.

“Dormant Heart” was self produced by Sylosis. How was the experience of producing the record by yourselves and what do you think are the benefits of producing a record like that instead of working full time with a producer?

It just makes it really easy, just the whole process very quick and easy. We recorded the drums with Scott Atkins who did our first two albums, we went to a big studio near him in Ipswich, which is called “Monkey Puzzle Studios” and we spent about five days just doing the drums with him. He was engineering the drum stuff, but once the drums were done, I did everything else. Basically, I’ve been recording bands on and off for over the past ten years. I’ve obviously done a lot of recording with us, I’ve paid attention to all the producers we worked with in the past and learned a lot from them, and I just got to a point where I’m very confident with what I have to do and with producing. We know exactly what kind of guitar tones we want, we know exactly what kind of performances we want to get, so it really doesn’t make much financial sense to pay someone else to do it. We don’t make loads of money, so we try to keep the cost down where possible. It just makes it really quick, it’s much quicker especially when I’m recording just myself and there’s no one else in the studio. It’s just so quick and easy, even quicker than having someone else with you doing all the laptop stuff because you can just really get wrapped up on it and get it done. It’s a shame not having a producer to bounce ideas off, but we demoed the songs so in depth that we kind of knew what we were going to do. When producers do get a chance, especially with us, to change things or to make changes in the arrangements, that usually comes when you’re doing drums, because once the drums are recorded there’s no going back, and like I said, we did record the drums with Scott, so there were a few bits where we were like “should we change this, should we do this?”, we got his opinion and then the rest was just down to me, but it was a very stress free and very easy process.

You mentioned the recording of the drums, and regarding that, there’s been a line-up change. Rob Collard, your drummer for the past 14 years and still for “Dormant Heart” left Sylosis. I remember you saying in Vagos Open Air that he was about to embark on “a solo singing career”! So why did Rob left and what made you pick Ali Richardson, your new drummer?

Basically, Rob was just…I think we’ve been doing it for so long now and he personally just wasn’t as enthusiastic about doing it anymore. Touring is very hard work, especially when you come back off a long hard tour and you don’t get paid for it. It tends to happen quite a lot with us, so…I think he needed a bit more financial stability and he wasn’t as enthusiastic about the musical side of things. He’s decided to do open university, he’s studying bio-physics or something. He’s very clever, so it’s something science-related or to do with space I think. Basically, Ali had filled in on a tour for us last year that we did with Devildriver that Rob just couldn’t do, and he learned the set within two days. Nailed it! So, when we knew Rob wasn’t going to be in the band, Ali was the first choice, he already knew the songs and it was very easy. The whole process was very smooth and easy. Rob, he did those last few shows with us even though we knew he was going to leave the band, and there were no bad feelings, so it was just a a really positive thing and Ali brings a lot of enthusiasm into the band, it was like a breath of fresh air.

About Ali, have you started to do anything with him yet, writing some material to see how he can contribute to the new riffs that might be coming up?

He will be, but we haven’t really been doing much writing on new stuff yet, it’s more about learning all the songs from the album because obviously Ali didn’t play in the album, so he didn’t know all the songs anyway, but also, the way we write these days, we write in front of the computer. We actually don’t learn all the songs as a band playing them live, so we haven’t played loads of the songs on the album as an whole band, even with the old line-up, with Rob. So, when we do get together to rehearse, which we have done recently, we just go over and kind of re-learn the songs, so there’s a lot of new songs from “Dormant Heart” that we’re kind of getting ready to play live. But yeah, Ali will be great to have on board when it comes to writing, he’s a very creative drummer, so I look forward to it!

Talking about your lead guitar work, what are your main influences in terms of soloing and how do you think they translate into what you do and how do you develop your leads? Do you always map out all sections of your solos in advance?

Basically, my influences, weirdly enough, I’ve never really been into shred guitar or lead guitar. I was always enthusiastic about playing guitar and I wanted to be as good as I could be and I wanted to be able to play all that really fast, shreddery stuff. I didn’t actually really listen to people like Steve Vai or Satriani, I much preferred guitarists that do it within a band context. When I was younger, I was into skateboarding and you know, when you do a cool trick it’s fun and it’s impressive. It’s the same as doing something fast on the guitar like, it’s just cool to be able to do something impressive and quick but it doesn’t mean that I was too much into shredding guitar playing. So, my biggest influence is Dimebag Darrell, who was always my favorite guitar player and, even though he’s very bluesy and I don’t sound anything like him, I don’t think, just in terms of putting his character and that feel into his playing, big vibrato and everything, he was just the biggest influence to me growing up. James Hetfield is an huge influence for the riffing stuff, same as Chuck Schuldiner from Death, and other than that, my favorite kind of lead guitarists are people like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and I actually really like Brent Hinds from Mastodon. I really prefer a more classic rock vibe and melodic stuff for solos, so when it comes to writing them, I usually try and come up with an interesting chord progression, unless it’s a chorus-chord progression or something that’s already interesting, because its important that if you want to do a good melodic solo, the chords behind it have to be moving and do the right things, but basically I just improvise when I’m demoing the song and spend about an hour just improvising around and you just kind of improvise until something sticks. You’ll be improvising and then you get an intro to the solo down and that’ll stay the same and then you improvise. You play that same bit in the start everytime and then you improvise in the second half of the solo. A lot of it it’s from improvising, apart from some of the fastest stuff, I try to work out and do some kind of runs and stuff, but yeah, it’s partly improvising.

It’s surprising that they’re improvised mostly. There’s this great solo from “The River” on the “Monolith” album, which like so many others, sounds like as an example of a carefully constructed solo.

It’s quite a stadium rock solo that one! (laughs) You know, a lot of it just comes around from just messing around, improvising, like I’ve said, you improvise something really cool and you remember it for the next time and when we play live, I always try to work out exactly what I did on the album to make sure that [it sounds equal]. I don’t like changing the solos that much so, they become mapped out in a way.

Do you feel like you guys are one of the few bands actually carrying the flag for this genre while trying to do something new and that the thrash genre in itself could be even further explored and taken into other creative avenues?

Yeah, as much as I love the revivalist thing - I don’t have a problem with bands coming out and sounding exactly like a band from the ‘80s - we just like a lot more music than that. It was never too thought out like “Let’s try to be some new sound, some new thrash band”. We do have a lot of other influences aside of Thrash like I’ve mentioned, from Cult of Luna to Rush, and we just try to find a way to make it work and for it not to sound just like a big mess of styles. I think there aren’t many other bands that are doing much with Thrash that’s different. The only other band that I can really think of is Skeletonwitch who kind of do a really traditional Thrash sound with Black Metal, so I think they’re doing something quite unique. I definitely think we wear our influences on our sleeve, I think everyone can kind of hear that we’re very inspired by Metallica, we’re inspired by Death, but I think at the same time there isn’t someone doing what we do, any other bands that I know of that have these influences that range from early Metallica or Death to Cult of Luna and Pink Floyd and Rush. I think that’s just worked out well for us, it’s something that’s been a happy accident, that we’ve managed to create our own sound but, I don’t pay much attention to the Thrash scene or at least the newer bands coming out so, it’s hard for me to comment on that but it doesn’t seem like there’s much bands doing something new.

About touring. What are your plans?

I think we’re not touring until April, which is kind of strange since the album’s just come out. I’m not sure if we’re doing a headline tour or supporting another band, but probably around April time we’ll be doing a full European tour I imagine. But nothing set in stone so…nothing to announce I’m afraid.

Thanks for this interview Josh, great talking to you! Take care!

You too! Take care!

‘Dormant Heart’ is out on Nuclear Blast Records.

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