Armed with renewed perspective and drive, Josh Middleton shares how the band’s redirected focus has resulted in their most succinct work to date.
The class of UK metal bands that broke in the late 2000s and early 2010s has produced acts who now in 2023 are among the most beloved, visible, and important acts in the genre anywhere, the likes of Bring Me the Horizon, While She Sleeps, Architects, Bury Tomorrow, Bleed From Within, and Malevolence.
For many, Sylosis – the musical baby of uber-talented guitarist and vocalist Josh Middleton, who until recently also plied his trade in Architects – were long one of the stalwart favourites, a band whose incredibly intricate mixture of Bay Area thrash metal and technical death metal with those more contemporary forms of modern metal marked them out as one of the unique and difficult to replicate bands of the 2010s.
When Middleton joined Architects in 2017 though, Sylosis were noticeably on the down-low. 2020’s Cycle of Suffering record ended a five-year musical hiatus with a fired up return that had that hardcore fanbase who had pined for that sound that no other band could quite serve up cheering, but when they managed to play precisely one comeback show before COVID-19 wiped it all off the map, it seemed like Sylosis were a little bit cursed.
Freshly out of Architects though (on all good terms), Middleton isn’t going to let his musical life’s work fall by the wayside. With a newfound firm focus on taking the band to the next level, A Sign of Things to Come is a Sylosis reforged.
Cycle of Suffering in 2020 was an album that really affirmed Sylosis as being back after a few years of hiatus, but now with the new album and the direction you seem to be taking with it as a musician, it feels like a bit of a new era for Sylosis in terms of having this renewed laser focus and intent behind it. What was the conduit for renewing that excitement in you?
Middleton – Cycle of Suffering we were proud of but it came out a couple of weeks I think before COVID hit so that high got knocked down pretty quickly. If I’m being honest, the band’s manager Adam Foster is credited as an executive producer on the new record and he was quite ruthless with us after Cycle of Suffering, saying that it’s a good album but it didn’t really have the in his words, ‘moments’.
I had to think what he meant by that but he encouraged me to take a step back from the musician point of view, think of it as a fan of metal and write your version of a classic metal album that has those anthems. I always put a lot of attention to detail into our music but the more I thought about I would always shy away from the stuff that felt too obvious maybe as a songwriter. Realistically all the stuff that was missing was stuff which I love, where I grew up listening to the latter day era Pantera stuff which was really intense and heavy, and then getting into Slipknot, and then into death metal with Morbid Angel and Nile and Cannibal Corpse. That’s my musical DNA, but even those bands would have anthems.
The Great Southern Trendkill is anthemic and you wanna scream along to it, the same way People = Shit is. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re trying to write radio songs but trying to bring in some of those hooks even when it’s heavy. The other thing was also just trying to rediscover the intensity of when you first practice together as a band as a kid, where the first time you plug into a loud amp or you’re playing with a drummer for the first time and you get that electrifying feeling.
I wanted to inject that into our music because I feel as the band went on I got better as a guitarist and I’d sit at the computer writing riffs, and I’m proud of everything we’ve done but it kinda lost some of that initial energy. Coming of the nu metal days when Ross Robinson was producing records, no matter what record he produced they always had the most vitriolic aggressive vocal performances, and I wanted to get some of that into Sylosis and not be this rigid, stale thing.
Since Sylosis have come back it really feels like you’ve put more emphasis on your role as a frontman rather than just guitarist/vocalist, and that’s even more true on this new material where you’re able to find melodies within the scream. How has that developmental process been for you in really pushing that side of what you do?
Middleton – I definitely switched some things up in my vocal technique on Cycle of Suffering and felt like I could do what I wanted a bit more freely but on the new record, again the band’s manager was really pushing me to put the vocals at the forefront.
Back in the day being the guitarist predominately, I’d write a song and throw some vocals on, thinking if the riffs are sick I could just scream on those and it’d be good. I would put effort into writing the lyrics and try and write some hooks but I’ve never put as much effort into the vocals as I have on this record and putting them at the forefront of what we do.
Sylosis has definitely bought up almost like a cult following, fans who really like the band are really invested, but maybe it didn’t connect as broadly because I wasn’t doing enough as a vocalist or frontman and that is something that I’ve stepped up in the last few years. I want the fans to know that we’re not keeping on dumbing down what we do because I’m still a fan of Death and all those intricate records, but I do feel admittedly that even my attention span and maybe just society as a whole shared attention spans are dwindling a little bit. I can’t necessarily always hold focus on a seven minute song. I think we’ll always have one foot in that sound we established Edge of the Earth-era but we can take the other foot and put it elsewhere.
When we started out we were into everything. There’s a widely undocumented era of the first four years where we were playing shows and just trying to be the heaviest band possible, mixing Hatebreed or Poison the Well with loads of death metal stuff, and it was all about the intensity and the energy. As I got better as a musician we got more finesse in our sound, but this is actually the closest we’ve ever been to when the band started.
You’re working with Scott Adkins as producer on this record too. For a long time you took the role as primary creative overseer yourself, and one feature of some of the earlier Sylosis records for example that is different to this one is often having these quite lengthy runtimes with big banquets of material. Was there a concern here to make it more digestible and replayable for people?
Middleton – To a degree, yeah. I definitely remember back in the day when people would complain about albums like Edge of the Earth being too long, and I didn’t get it because if I was doing something like tidying my room or whatever as a kid and I’m listening to Ride the Lightning, when it finishes, I’m putting Master of Puppets on. I was always like ‘why wouldn’t you want more?’
I definitely understand some people’s issues though with the long record and I wanted this album to be twelve tracks. We wrote loads of music and it’s all your baby so I really wanted them all to be on there, but the label and our manager who both by the way never really push too hard, the band always feels like it will have final say, but they were both like ‘Imagine if this just fit on one disc.’
Master of Puppets is eight songs and they all count. We had to whittle away some songs that didn’t make it to the album, arguably some of my favourite tracks, but in terms of making one cohesive record that’s a solid piece of work I felt like I really wanted to do that as well. To signify as you say a new chapter, we’ve got the new logo to signify that, and doing these focused records I looked as well as stuff like the Turnstile album which is just really solid and leaves you wanting more. With Sylosis you usually get all of it, and maybe you don’t want more!
With that honing away of some of the new tracks and then the string of standalone singles you’ve released over the past couple of years as well, what would you say the role of those songs was to getting you here and will there be more?
Middleton – There may be some other ones that pop up. Heavy Lies the Crown was actually recorded at the same time as the rest of this album back in 2022, and we felt like without touring heavily during the pandemic we didn’t want to have periods where we weren’t releasing music. We wanted to keep those singles coming out to keep propping up interest in the band and make sure it didn’t look like we’d just dropped off the face of the earth.
With you having spent much of the last few years playing with Architects, with them playing a different kind of metal to Sylosis and touring on a different scale as well, are there things that you learned or gained from that experience that are informing how Sylosis go forward?
Middleton – The main one, and it’s a big one, is when I first started writing for Architects on Holy Hell, the first time I sent a few songs to Dan and he’d move the pieces around taking parts I’d written and making them the intro or the chorus, really getting involved with a song I’d spent ages working on and had a vision for in my head, it was really uncomfortable to begin with. I’d always been quite tight on the reins with Sylosis with the writing and trying to get other people’s input but it’d always go through my funnel and I wouldn’t give my songs to other people to re-arrange.
Having Dan produce my work in that way and change it was quite difficult for me to get used to as a creative person, so a few albums and a few years of learning to let go and collaborate more has been really beneficial for me. Even though we’ve worked with Scott Adkins in the past it was more like hitting record but this time around, before going in the studio we sent him all the songs months in advance and told him to tear us a new one if he needed to.
He used to be in the band Stampin’ Ground who were quite a big band in the UK and he’s really good at putting his head inside his mates who are just metal punters going to shows and thinking what they are going to connect with.
Poison for the Lost for example I sent him and it was a thrashy one with loads of riffs but it didn’t have much of a chorus, and Scott looked at that and said ‘Give me a chorus. What’s my mate at the show going to scream along, what’s he going to remember when the chorus comes back in?’ Like I said it doesn’t have to mean radio hits, it can still be heavy, but thinking back to Pantera’s heaviest stuff which was the stuff I liked the most, there were still those hooks.
Getting a number 1 album in the UK and then thinking “how can I apply this to extremity?” must be quite an exciting challenge for you.
Middleton – Definitely, I guess I didn’t really think too much about the number 1 album thing even though obviously it’s a huge milestone, but, even though I have been in Architects and writing for Architects, shifting to a more anthemic focus I didn’t necessarily take from there but from Scott Adkins and the band’s manager knocking on the door for that.
They were two separate entities in my head, and Architects I was writing to appease what they wanted to do where after Holy Hell it was more about writing riffs that were quirky and could sound more like a synth whereas Sylosis’ riffing style is very metal. The main thing, like I said. is not only being able to accept people’s criticisms and them changing the work but actively seeking it now, I genuinely want that feedback and was constantly on so many Zoom calls asking ‘What do you think about this song, could the structure be better?’
It feels like one of the key attributes of Sylosis amongst your peers is the ability to take and translate genuine extreme metal elements through the prism of this larger more universal contemporary metal. Songs like Poison for the Lost have really fast death metal-laced riffing, which is a thing that big metal bands like Slipknot or early Killswitch Engage have managed to incorporate too, but feels slightly more absent in the more popular metal class of the last decade perhaps. With the drive of this particular record being more about those songs and those hooks, how delicate is achieving that balance for you?
Middleton – I’m glad you picked up on that and I think those are two really good examples because Slipknot was a big band for me, and when Iowa came out I was already getting into some death metal and you could hear the death metal influences in their riffs, and with Killswitch you could hear so much Carcass on Alive or Just Breathing and the underground in there.
I think I always wanted Sylosis to be a metal band the way that Pantera, Machine Head and Sepultura were metal bands but injected all that extreme stuff. Suicide Note, Pt. 2 is one of the heaviest songs because it has a fierceness and genuinely sounds scary, but it’s not super low death metal voice. I’m an absolute death metal nerd and fan, that was the first subgenre I got completely obsessed with, but I didn’t necessarily want Sylosis to be that.
When it comes to going about arranging on the other hand the more spacious and melodic tracks like Absent, or the closer A Godless Throne with its various bells and whistles, is that something that comes naturally to you or something you’ve really had to hone as well?
Middleton – Absent is actually a lot easier to write for me in that verse-chorus way. With that one I feel like it’s gonna take people by surprise, particularly because we stuck it in the middle of the record, but in the past we’ve had acoustic tracks that were in a similar vein like Quiescent at the end of Dormant Heart or Abandon on the end of Cycle of Suffering.
There’s the hidden track on Monolith that is so hidden away for such a great song that many people might not even have heard it.
Middleton – Yeah! I’ve always liked that dark, melancholic music, but this time round I wrote the song on an acoustic guitar but I didn’t want to do it on an acoustic. It’s gloomy and I guess sort of industrial, there’s definitely a bit of Nine Inch Nails influence in there, and I guess I can say this because I don’t think it sounds anything like it but there’s a lot of revisiting records from my youth and Iowa was one of them and there’s a song on that album called Skin Ticket that’s really moody.
So we have done slower songs like that but we didn’t want it to be on acoustic guitar and be proggy and Opeth-y but incorporate some more atmosphere and be confident enough to put it slap bang in the middle of the record and not tuck away at the end like ‘oh, we can do this as well!’
You’re touring with Malevolence soon and they’re another band who have been around for over a decade at this point but are enjoying the largest boom in popularity they’ve ever received, and Architects obviously are the biggest they’ve ever been, so does it feel like the decade plus of hard work being put in by your generation of UK metal bands who perhaps at times have been somewhat ignored is really beginning to reap rewards?
Middleton – It’s amazing. It’s really great for the UK scene in general, because when I was getting into music in the late 90s and early 2000s it felt like the odds were completely stacked against you as a UK band. At that point there were no bands breaking through the noise, where Stampin’ Ground and One Minute Silence were great bands but it wasn’t cool to be a UK band compared to the US.
As time went on with the internet that mattered less, and I think now it just shows that if you’re dedicated to what you do and you stick at it then it might take a bit of time to get there but it can for Architects, Malevolence, Bleed From Within, and Sylosis feels like the interest in the band is the highest it’s ever been as well. Especially for that lane of more straight up metal like Malevolence, Sylosis, Bleed From Within, it’s cool that there aren’t that many bands from many other countries doing that.
There’s a lot of great stuff coming from the US but it’s either more metalcore or there’s really great death metal like Undeath or Frozen Soul and all these kind of bands, but in terms of filling that lane of metal there’s a lot coming from the UK which is really cool.
At the same time there has been a new generation of British metal bands who have broken through, you’ve got the bassist of Conjurer for example in your band, is that an exciting and healthy thing for you to be a part of in terms of challenging one another, or friendly competition?
Middleton – I think so and I think it’s really good to have that. There was a period where we were probably one of the only UK “metal metal” bands breaking through the noise like that, where around Edge of the Earth there were so many more metalcore bands, and there was a band Viatrophy also from Reading who were more deathcore and we shared members with them. They split up and it was kinda a bummer for us just because having that competition really spurred us along. Getting genuinely jealous would be dumb because as the saying goes a rising tide lifts all ships so I’m genuinely really happy to see these bands doing well now.
Lastly, we’ve been speaking about the direction of this album and the specific focus the band now feels like it has. The title of the album A Sign of Things to Come – is that a statement of intent from a musical standpoint?
Middleton – It wasn’t originally. I wanted to call the album Deadwood after the first track and A Sign of Things to Come was just a song on the record, and it didn’t have any connotations of where the band was heading, but I like to think that it does because it does feel like a new era and a sort of reset on the band. Cycle of Suffering was a good comeback from the hiatus but then being hit by COVID, now it’s like my full focus and everything it really does feel like a rejuvenated band, so hopefully yes it is a sign of things to come that we are more busy and doing better records.
Along with the arrival of the next album from the band, Sylosis has been confirmed for the highly-anticipated winter trek throughout Europe and the UK, supporting fellow UK heavyweights Malevolence. The run begins November 7th in Glasgow and wraps December 12th in The Netherlands with additional support from Guilt Trip and Justice for the Damned. A full list of dates and cities can be found below.
A Sign of Things to Come lands September 8th via Nuclear Blast Records.
Pre-order the album – HERE
Sylosis Confirmed Tour Dates
07 Nov – UK, Glasgow – Garage
08 Nov – UK, Manchester – O2 Ritz
09 Nov – UK, Birmingham – O2 Institute
10 Nov – UK, Bristol – SWX
11 Nov – UK, London – O2 Forum Kentish Town
13 Nov – DE, Hamburg – Gruenspan
14 Nov – DE, Koln – Essigfabrik
15 Nov – BE, Antwerp – Zappa
17 Nov – FR, Paris – Petit Bain
18 Nov – FR, Besancon – La Rodia
19 Nov – FR, Lyon – CCO La Rayonne
22 Nov – ES, Madrid – Mon Live
23 Nov – ES, Barcelona – La 2 de Apolo
24 Nov – ES, Bilbao – Stage Live
25 Nov – FR, Toulouse – Usine A Musique
26 Nov – CH, Geneva – PTR
27 Nov – CH, Zurich – Dynamo
28 Nov – IT, Milan – Legend
29 Nov – SI, Ljubljana – Orto Bar
01 Dec – AT, Vienna – Flex
03 Dec – DE, Chemnitz – AJZ Chemnitz
04 Dec – DE, Frankfurt – Batchkapp
05 Dec – DE, Munich – Backstage Halle
07 Dec – CZ, Prague – Meet Factory
08 Dec – PL, Krakow – Kamienna 12
09 Dec – PL, Warsaw – Hydrozagadka
10 Dec – DE, Berlin – SO36 Berlin
11 Dec – DE, Oberhausen – Kulttempel
12 Dec – NL, Tilburg – 013