"For me personally, there's a lot of people, let's say, in the UK press or in the metal scene, that maybe didn't give Sylosis the time of day and who I was. And then I joined Architects, and everyone was trying to be my best friend."
A Sign Of Things To Come is the album Josh Middleton has always wanted to make. As the vocalist, primary guitarist and songwriter in Sylosis, much of what eventually made its way onto the album rested squarely on his shoulders.
On A Sign Of Things To Come, Middleton looked back to the artists and albums he loved growing up – Slipknot’s Iowa and “some of the really heavy Pantera stuff” to craft a 10-track, 43-minute album that’s as hooky as it is heavy.
“I think this time around, we want to feel just like every song could be a single,” Middleton explains over Zoom, recalling the process for 2020’s Cycle Of Suffering – their first LP since going on hiatus in 2016. “One of the biggest factors, in all honesty, was the band's manager, Adam Foster. He was kind of ruthless with us after the last record.
Donning a Malevolence hoodie, he continues, “I'm still proud of it. And I’m definitely not knocking it, but you need to reach your full potential, and you need more memorable moments. It needs to connect with people on a personal level. And at first, I was like, ‘I spend so much time on our music; I always have.”
While Cycle Of Suffering only clocks in seven minutes longer than A Sign Of Things To Come, Sylosis spent considerable time thinking of making “single-ready” tracks – not in a negative light or ready for radio, but “with every song, we wanted it to feel anthemic or catchy or hooky, even if it's really heavy.”
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Middleton and his bandmates – guitarist Alex Bailey, drummer Ali Richardson and bassist Conor Marshall, and external producer Scott Atkins (Cradle Of Filth, Ed Sheeran, Venom Prison) aimed to throw some more variety into Sylosis’ sixth record. Their mission statement was to go against the “here's a bunch of cool riffs stuffed together” idea and, ideally, attempt to make a classic album.
“We've always spent loads of time working on our records, but I don't think we've ever really thought, like, ‘Let's make a classic album, like our version of the Black Album or whatever.”
Coincidentally, that’s what A Sign Of Things To Come feels like. With a collection of digestible, heavy metal songs, they might have gone and made a classic record – it’s all down to your perception of what a classic album is.
“It's a lot harder to write shorter songs for us because you've got to be really ruthless,” Middleton says. “We’re trimming the fat, and you might have a section of the song that's your favourite part. But if it's not right for that song, you have to take it out or maybe save it for another day. But we also don't want to just dumb down what we do.”
The band’s new songs still take you on a journey (a packed one), but it’s a voyage that “minds the line between keeping the listener entertained and engaged, but not too self-indulgent at the same time.”
On the thrilling non-single Pariahs, Middleton says that describing where he found inspiration is slightly tricky, as he “wasn't trying to emulate anything in particular.” He simply wanted to write something “punchy and stompy”. Throughout the writing process for A Sign Of Things To Come, Middleton stepped away from writing on his computer chair and looking at a laptop. Instead, he wrote riffs while standing up, imagining playing these songs to audiences.
“What kind of inspired Pariahs lyrically was that kind of that feeling of being an outsider,” Middleton explains. “And it touches on a few different aspects of that. For me personally, there's a lot of people, let's say, in the UK press or in the metal scene, that maybe didn’t give Sylosis the time of day and who I was. And then I joined Architects, and everyone was trying to be my best friend.
“That feeling alone means nothing to me; I've always felt like I was on the outside of either the cool circles or in society in general like metalheads kind of feel like you're in your own separate lane. It's kind of about that lyrically, but in terms of the music, I guess there's a lot of Pantera and Testament influence.”
It's been a long time since Sylosis last worked with producer Scott Atkins, whom the band reunited with on A Sign Of Things To Come. The last time he produced a Sylosis record was in 2011, for their second album, Edge Of The Earth. In those days, they hardly sought Atkins’ input, but this time around, it was a different story.
“Nowadays, I really kind of seek out that external input,” Middleton admits. “For the first time, we sent him all the demos months in advance. He was really monumental, for example, on Pariahs. The chorus was there, but he was like, ‘You need a big bit in the middle’. So, he helped develop the middle section of that song, and there are many other examples of him doing that, but he had a big approach or a big involvement with the shaping of the song.
“I feel like the payoff is just better,” Middleton says about the band’s attempt to write shorter songs, “because I just want to listen to the album over and over again.”
For Middleton, the writing on the band’s new album is what he’s most proud of. The last song written for A Sign Of Things To Come is the roaring title track, but for a long time, the title attached to the album was Deadwood. “And then we wrote A Sign Of Things To Come just before we went in the studio.
“Lyrically, it doesn’t necessarily sum up the whole thing, but yeah, I guess it's about trying not to feel too bleak about things,” Middleton says. He tries to remain optimistic, “but a lot of the record was written during the pandemic.
“All you could do was be locked up, just scrolling on your phone and seeing what's going on in the rest of the world,” he adds. “It just felt a bit oppressive, doom and gloom and, you know, big changes politically or in society, or the state of the planet and that kind of stuff.
“I guess it's just that anxiety that a lot of people had during the pandemic of, like, doom scrolling and looking at your phone and feeling helpless. And also seeing people just being pitted against each other. It just felt overwhelming.”
With the foot-stomping tunes and relatability, Sylosis sounds as strong as ever, which begs the question: Will they return to Australia anytime soon? It’s been ten long years since Sylosis last visited Australia for Soundwave festival, which Middleton recalls fondly.
On Soundwave, Middleton states, “The first night of the tour, Metallica hosted a barbecue for all the bands. I went to it but kept my distance; I didn’t want to bug them, so I was just like, ‘I'm just gonna keep a watchful eye’ [laughs]. Yeah, I met James [Hetfield] and took a picture with him at some point, but I just didn't want to embarrass myself. Like, what am I going to say? You’re my favourite band?”
By the time Sylosis returns to Australia, it’ll be eleven years since their last appearance, but they’re currently plotting a 2024 comeback. “We haven't necessarily confirmed anything, but we’re 100% coming back,” Middleton shares.
“I'd like to think the first half of next year, we’ll be over. I think we've got a couple of options. A few months ago, I didn't really expect that the second tour of the album cycle would maybe be in Australia.”
A Sign Of Things To Come is out now. You can listen to the album below.