Sylosis – Look for the SignsSunday, 15th October 2023
When it comes to steady UK modern metal that contains equal parts intricacy and musical enticement with solid hooks, melodies, and retainable songs which traverse aspects of metalcore, death metal, and thrash, look to Sylosis for a great discography to consume. Briefly going on hiatus from during the late 2010’s while guitarist/vocalist Josh Middleton joined Architects, he’s since returned to the fold and probably put the best album out to date for the group with A Sign of Things to Come. Embracing a focused template without sacrificing the intensity, heaviness, or technical chops that tantalize, the tracks bristle in that aggressive yet melodic manner to translate as well on record as they should on stage.
We reached out to Josh via Zoom to gather his thoughts on the latest record, the challenges of maintaining technique versus feel when it comes to his guitar parts/songwriting, being creative on an affordable video budget, lessons learned from his time in Architects coming back to Sylosis, his stance on social media and his output, thoughts on the thriving UK metal scene, plus future plans with Sylosis and worldwide touring.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? And at what point do you remember discovering heavier forms of music – and eventually wanting to pick up an instrument to perform in your own bands?
Josh Middleton: My dad used to play a lot of music in the house through his turntable – he wasn’t really a musician; he was just a huge fan of music and still is. He had the James Bond theme on a seven-inch that I remember running around to. I started playing guitar before I got into music, I was playing that at about eight. I didn’t discover heavy bands at that time, I was into bands like Oasis that I would play guitar to. I had some older friends that got me into Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, I started buying Kerrang! Magazine and started getting into things on my own. I bought a Korn single, “Good God” off the Life Is Peachy album based on what they looked like. I was so pleased; it was so heavy.
I had lessons – the main thing that made me want to pick up a guitar is I have a sister that is two years older than me. When she started high school, I went along to some sort of performance deal, and a kid who was our next-door neighbor was performing on an electric guitar. I decided I wanted to do that. I started having lessons straight away until I was sixteen from when I was eight years old.
Dead Rhetoric: A Sign of Things to Come is the sixth studio album for Sylosis. Where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of discography for the band? Did you feel like you have to continually prove yourself more as far as your playing and songwriting abilities album to album this deep into your career?
Middleton: That’s an interesting question. For me, it definitely sits as our best record, a defining moment. We really tried to have the sound of a classic metal record, with all the hallmarks of those records that stand the test of time. Just make people want to listen to them again and again. The records that we made in the past had slightly longer songs, longer albums in general, the more progressive side of things would be a bit more prominent. There’s always something we are going to have and may revisit again in the future. I guess this is a bit more refined, getting to the point as far as songwriting-wise. It’s hard to write songs like this on the new record. If you want to get everything focused and sound finished within four minutes, you can’t just go on these tangents. Even though I’m proud of our previous records, it’s a lot harder to write more concise songs.
I feel like a self-imposed pressure, and I guess from the fans to a certain degree to write technical stuff. At least when it comes to the guitar solos, the fans expect that. I also like challenging myself and keeping myself on my toes, trying to come up with stuff at the same time. For me, I realized that I really enjoy playing songs in a bit heavier context, as opposed when something is technical, when playing live you just have to stand there and concentrate. It’s not necessarily fun from a performance element. I made things a little easier for myself with this record. It’s a bit weightier, fun, and chuggy, but I don’t want to leave behind that technical stuff. We are always going to have that, and we may get more technical again.
Dead Rhetoric: Where is your stance on technique versus catchiness and feel when it comes to your guitar playing?
Middleton: I think so. I’ve always put the song first, even on our more technical albums I’d always try to make things sound cool and not to be too flashy. Especially with guitar solos. I want it to sound cool, I want some feeling and emotion behind it. It’s a tough balance. Whatever serves the song is best. Sometimes doing something super-technical is best for the song, and sometimes you have to know when to trim those bits out.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve shot videos for “Deadwood”, “Poison for the Lost”, “Descent” and the title track. Do you enjoy the art and craft behind making visually appealing videos that connect what you do with your fans – and are they as important as videos may have been back in the 80’s and 90’s before social media exploded?
Middleton: I’ll answer the second part of the question first. It doesn’t seem like it’s as important. The amount of material that’s consumed and fired out there these days, I was at the in between age group when I had just four channels to watch in the UK. If I wanted to see any music on tv, I’d have to wait late on a Friday night, and maybe see Faith No More or Slipknot, or put a tape in and hope it records what was on. Consuming music through videos was more of a big deal back then. People still watch videos… to the first part of your question, I enjoy it a lot now to come up with interesting ways to make things visually interesting, particularly on a budget as we are not a huge band. Trying to come up with ideas, the director we’ve used has been very creative. We want things that aren’t going to cost a lot yet still look interesting.
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art from Snakehed seems very minimalistic yet effective in drawing people into the contents of the album. How did this idea come about – was it a collaborative, back-and-forth effort between yourselves and the artist to arrive at the final concept?
Middleton: No, to be honest I didn’t have much input this time. Which is quite interesting, as I usually end up micromanaging and become quite hands on. I hand-painted our last album cover Cycle of Suffering. I am visually minded. He’s a friend of the band, and our manager came up with the concept for the artwork. We were talking about the Graham Hancock documentary series on Netflix, Ancient Apocalypse. Snakes were often used as a symbol for the end of an era, things were changing, or rebirth because snakes shed their skin. We have an easter egg in there, where the tail is managing to avoid the mouth. It was nice not to be as involved. I didn’t want to stress, I wanted something more minimal, iconic, and simple.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in an online interview I read recently you did with guitar.com that in your eyes, Lamb of God were the last ‘metal’ band to truly get big, and you hope that with this new record, Sylosis can fill that gap. What do you believe it’s going to take to get up to that level of following and success, considering the state of the industry currently?
Middleton: Firstly, I think there have been other bands, but I think I was talking specifically about that middle lane in metal sound. Where I see Sylosis, I think of bands like Lamb of God, Pantera, Machine Head, who aren’t necessarily extreme metal but not necessarily metalcore or poppy. I haven’t seen many bands coming up be more metal or metallic. There is a lot of amazing underground music around, especially in the US right now, death metal acts coming up. It’s tough for the industry. I feel confident with our new record and our approach to writing. I believe if the music is good enough, people will come around. We put a lot of attention into the music. For us, it’s all about making the best possible record.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you say your time away from Sylosis and playing with Architects shaped your thoughts and outlook coming back to Sylosis this time around?
Middleton: The most important thing was the ability to elaborate better. I remember the first few songs I started writing for the first Architects record I was on, I was writing for Holy Hell. I would write a song and give it to Dan (Searle) the drummer, he would produce/edit the song. I sent him the first few songs, he would chop them up, that would be an intro, something else would be shifted around, and it was very uncomfortable for me. As someone who is used to having an idea and vision of how I want something from an artistic point of view, I never had someone pull my work apart before. It was really beneficial, as a musician and generally on a personal level. I learned to let go of certain things and accept outside opinions. And on this record, we looked for more outside opinions than ever before. We got our producer involved six months ahead of going into the studio, we really wanted to go through each song. Our manager gave us loads of feedback. We took those things on board.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is the aspect of your management, producers, other outside people in being able to set Sylosis up for success to where you can just focus more on musical matters?
Middleton: I think it’s really important. I like to listen to other people’s opinions, get on board. Sometimes you may have to still stand your ground on certain points, but you can at least entertain other ideas and mature in that way is helpful.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of the heavy music marketplace in the UK compared to other parts of the world? What changes (if any) would you like to see made for the greater good of all parties involved?
Middleton: Interesting one. It feels like we’ve got a really good scene going on at the moment – especially particular for that sort of metal scene I was talking about previously. You have Sylosis, you have Bleed From Within, you have Malevolence, a band called Urne, who are all playing metal in the UK that I really like. There is quite a strong scene, we are all friends with each other, it feels good.
I think things are looking good. I don’t know what I would change. It’s good to give younger bands more opportunities, to give them good festival slots, gaining support from the outlets, the press is always helpful.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your social media output, are you very careful to curate what you put out there? Because it seems like more musicians these days reveal so much more about themselves…
Middleton: Yeah, I guess to a degree that’s something that I’ve struggled with for a while. Growing up as a kid, buying Kerrang! Magazine, I wouldn’t know what some of these bands sounded like unless I went to a show when they spoke, their talking voices. When social media ramped up, I would see bands act like they were on kids tv, ‘check out my YouTube channel’. I like the mysterious thing that I grew up with. Recently I spoke to my brother-in-law, who owns a social media company that used to work with musicians and now they do more stuff with brands. He said if you want to be mysterious, you can’t be on social media so that no one knows anything about you, or you just have to play the game and do the social media thing to keep people engaged. I’m more focused on staying on top of my social media. I do like to interact with the fans, but I prefer the days when things were more of a mystery.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say was a critical or pivotal moment that helped shape your musical career?
Middleton: Signing to Nuclear Blast early on was huge, I guess. Recording our first record. I can’t say things noticeably changed to the point where we blew up and were making a living through it. They’ve been a great label; they are super supportive. They’ve never told us what they think we should do. We tell them when we are going into the studio, they put it out, and it’s cool. They never had much of a UK office in the past, and now they do. We get input now, which is beneficial for us. We’ve done some great tours, eleven years ago we did a tour with Lamb of God in the states. That was a good one, for some reason we haven’t been back much, but people remember that (tour) which is good.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest challenges that the average fan doesn’t understand about some of the decisions that have to be made with a band of the level of Sylosis at this point in your career?
Middleton: Touring. The fans like to generally complain about where we are touring, missing a certain city. That has nothing to do with the band for the most part. Promoters book a tour, trying to see which venues are free on which days and it doesn’t clash with another tour. It’s a huge puzzle. We may be able to select which cities to headline in the UK, we’ll do five shows to cover the whole country. There is a huge backup with vinyl, getting records pressed. Bands were sitting on a record for almost a year, which didn’t happen in the past.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for the next twelve months or so with Sylosis or any other activities yourself musically, tour wise, promotion, etc.?
Middleton: We’ve got a tour throughout Europe and the UK coming up, which I can’t wait for. We’ve played a handful of shows since coming back from our hiatus, but we haven’t done a full tour. We will hopefully head out to Australia in the first half of next year, we’ve got festivals. We should be coming back to North America at the end of next year. We will be writing for another record. I’m going to personally be doing more mixing work and producing bands.