British progressive thrashers Sylosis have been destroying minds for four albums now, and their latest may be their most ambitious yet (10 minute acoustic track!). Produced by guitarist/vocalist Josh Middleton, Dormant Hearts contains some of their most malevolent material to date, containing a full hour of anger. To celebrate the release of the album, we have an exclusive interview with Middleton, along with the premiere of an in-studio playthrough of the vicious "Mercy." Metal Christmas to you!
Prior to the recording of the album, your band got in a bad RV accident. Did that experience influence the new album? If so, how?
To be honest, most of the album was written before we were in that crash. It was already shaping up to be a dark album and then that just pushed it a little over the edge.
Could you tell us about the songwriting process for this album?
As usual it's a very long and drawn out process. We never stop writing and we always want to be well prepared. After we'd finished writing Monolith but before we went in the studio to record Monolith, we still kept writing. We don't want to feel like we have to rush anything and want to relax and let the music come out naturally. Usually it's done away from the rehearsal space and we do a lot of demoing on computers first. There will be loads of songs on the go at any time and you just build each one up bit-by-bit.
Josh stated that this was the band's most aggressive album to date. Did anything specific in your lives lead to that aggression?
There were a few more personal things but some of it came more from paying more attention to outside issues, either in society or maybe even politics etc. I think the older you get, you lose the kind of teenage angst but start paying attention to the world outside of your own little bubble and you can get pretty jaded with everything quite quickly.
Your band has a notably progressive side to its music. How do you balance the complex musicality with the classic thrash aggression?
It really depends from song to song. We don't want it to sound forced or like a mess of styles. It has to flow in a cohesive way. It's always a challenge to try and combine all of our influences and maybe aim to get the song under 5 minutes. You just do what's best for the song and even if all you have is just two riffs to begin with, you kind of get the vibe for what the song is going to be like.
Was it more challenging to produce the album yourselves? Did you find the results to be worth the additional workload?
To be honest it was nice and easy and we got the recording done a lot quicker because of it. We know what kind of tones to go for and what kind of performances we want to capture. Having an external producer can get distracting at times. Like you'll end up getting into a conversation about guitar amps for an hour when you could be recording. I've been recording for so long now and worked with producing other bands that I was confident enough to handle a lot of the production. We still worked with Scott Atkins on drums and he mixed it.
Does the theme implied by the title Dormant Heart carry through the entire album?
Kind of yes. It's about people not really thinking for themselves, not thinking about issues outside of their own little world, not questioning anything or maybe being scared of change. There are some more personal songs on there but I like to kind of dress the lyrics up as something else so it's not always entirely clear of what the song is about and I don't like the idea of forcing my opinion on other people.
Could you walk us through the stories behind some of your favorite songs on the album?
I'm not sure there are any stories behind the songs. The writing process spanned over a year and you just add little bits to each song as you go on so there aren't many strong memories of the writing process. The songs don't really have stories in the lyrics if that's what you meant. Lyrically, "Victims and Pawns" kind of sums up the whole album in one song and it's one of my favourites. It's a pretty classic 'Sylosis' sounding song but it's pretty intense. I really like the hypnotic middle section where there's a lot of percussion going on. It kind of sounds like you're inside some dark factory or machine. "To Build A Tomb" is another one of my favourites. It's got an oceanic vibe but has some really dark atmosphere to it as well. I'm probably most proud of the closing track "Quiescent." From a songwriting perspective at least. It's mostly an acoustic track but it's still very dark and gloomy. We had done an acoustic song on Monolith but it was hidden at the very end of the album whereas this is the first time we've properly done an acoustic song on the album. We figured it would kill the momentum putting it anywhere other than the end of the album and there were no limitations. We could make it really long, really progressive and epic. It's inspired by a lot of 70s prog rock.
What was it about "Mercy" that made you decide to choose it for the studio session video?
It was the first song we released off the album so I guess people are most familiar with it out of the two songs. It's still a pretty fast and technical album but that song is a bit more straight forward and translate over live pretty easily.
How do you feel you've evolved as musicians over the course of your four albums?
You just get better at what you do over time and playing with other people live and locking in with other peoples playing just comes with experience. I'm always pushing myself to stay on top of my gain but I've never been obsessed with being the fastest or more technical player. The song always comes first.
What keeps you coming back to this type of music time and time again?
Literally it's all I've wanted to do since I was about 10 and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. It can be pretty tough in a metal band but the fact that we've stuck it out and we're always moving onwards and upwards just shows that the dedication pays off.