Exclusive interview: Josh Middleton of SYLOSIS on new album CYCLE OF SUFFERING, headline London show, current metal scene and more.
Earlier on in December 2019, Josh Middleton announced the long-awaited return of his project SYLOSIS and the release of highly-anticipated album CYCLE OF SUFFERING, out on 7th February 2020 via Nuclear Blast Records. After four years since their last album Dormant Heart dating back to 2015, the band is back on track with their fifth record and a headline show at the Islington Assembly Hall in London, held on 13th February 2020, their first show in over four years. Mastermind Josh Middleton, Alex Bailey, Ali Richardson and Conor Marshall are back, and with this new chapter dedicated to their fan base, they close another.
We had a brilliant opportunity to have a chat with SYLOSIS and discuss the details of brand new record CYCLE OF SUFFERING. In this exclusive interview our editor-in-chief Alex had with JOSH MIDDLETON, we talked about the return of the band and the journey that laid the foundation of their new album. We discussed the lyrical inspiration, the writing process and the challenges involved in the mixing process. We also talked about Sylosis’ show as headliners in London after four years. Josh also shared his personal point of view on the current metal scene, his personal evolution and the experience of being in both Sylosis and Architects.
- Hello Josh! Let’s start by talking about the long-awaited comeback of your band, SYLOSIS after few years. You’re the mastermind of the project, so let’s discuss your return and the journey that laid the foundation for your fifth record.
Sure, yeah, certainly right. I guess the band went on a hiatus in early 2016, in March, after our last headline tour. I was just really unhappy with where the band was at and the music, I felt like I had been restricting myself a lot and had a lot of boundaries around what we could and couldn’t do as a band. Gonna felt like boxing myself into a corner. So I just wanted to start over, so I essentially just wanted to do a new band. I told the guys in Sylosis: “I’m sorry I just don’t wanna do this anymore” and I was gonna start a new band with new people and do something else. So after a few months of writing, I submitted the demos to the label and to my manager and they were just like: “Why do you wanna do a new band that just sounds like Sylosis?” So I was like: “Oh well, I guess it does.” I still like hold the same music that I did, but I was just a bit more free in how I was writing. That’s essentially what I needed, I just needed to have a fresh prospective with writing and not be worried about what anyone else thinks about the music or the other stuff. So I slowly came out of the idea that, ok I’ll do Sylosis again, will start doing a new album. Basically no one needed to know that there will be a hiatus and I just was gonna do a new album. But just as I came out of that idea, that’s when Tom Searle died and I started playing guitar in Architects. And I just felt like I needed a break from Sylosis anyway, I didn’t want to rush back into it just because I was told all this sounds like Sylosis. I needed some time just to make sure how I really felt about Sylosis you know, after like giving it a while, a bit longer to think about. And, also I needed some time to, just play different music and not feel pressured by myself. So it was cool, I now write music for Architects so I am still creative in that respect as well, but I just wanted to make sure that I definitely felt excited doing Sylosis’ stuff, and I did. So I was working on the album over the last two years. I was just changing things as I went along and going back, and trimming the fat on some songs. You know the recording process is quite spread out, we started in 2018. The mixing took quite a long time. I did all the mixing myself and produced the album. And I was kind of learning as I went, so it took quite a long time all to come together really. But it was definitely something that I am glad it wasn’t rushed.
- You’ve been active for two decades, so now you’re basically closing a chapter and opening a new one with the album. You’re dedicating the record to your fan base. Let’s give more details about this statement.
Yeah, I mean, our fans seem to be very loyal and really into the band, it’s kinda like a cult type of following I guess. So I just wanted to dedicate it to them for being that patient because, not that they had to wait a long time for the album, like five years, but they didn’t get any update. I didn’t know how I felt and then I just started writing an update: “Look this is how I feel” but then it turned into a huge, long essay and I just wanted to be out to just, I don’t know, talk someone about it, like on a podcast which I actually did with my friend, on The Downbeat Podcast, where people gonna like, couldn’t take what I was saying out of context. When the album started to come together, we were recording, doing the mixing, I just wanted to be have a bigger impact rather than just saying: “Hey, we’ve got a new album coming out”, and not say anything. Although I don’t like the fans thinking that you’re just not giving them any update and leaving them in the dark, in this kind of thing. I think it has more impact when you just come out of nowhere and people don’t expect you to be back with a new album. We’re just like: “It it is, we are in a few months ”. I think that really focuses on anyone’s excitement.
- So let’s discuss CYCLE OF SUFFERING. Your signature sound and your superb technical approach are still there but I found the sound has evolved outside your typical frame towards dynamics, there’s more creativity, it’s more melodic too, there’s a heavier thrash stomp as well. So how do you actually describe the evolution of the sound as compared to your last record or if you wish, what was the writing process approached for it?
I just really want to make the songs more focused. I think everyone, including myself, today has a shorter attention span. I think the media, like Spotify and Netflix, everyone wants things instantly and you’re really competing for people’s attention. I just wanted, for myself as well, the songs to be really focused and to the point. So for the most part, I’d say the songs are more focused, they are a bit shorter, there’s a bit more of a intensity or urgency to music that I think was missing in the past.
- Suffering is inevitable in life and in this record it’s considered a part of the human condition. So let’s discuss the lyrical themes behind it and the vision or message that SYLOSIS would like to get across.
Sure, yeah. I guess there’s not really like, there’s not a concept running through the album, but there are a few songs that kinda time to that. You know there are titles about suffering is like just an inevitable thing, it’s a part of everyone’s life, everyone’s go through grief, or a lot of people go though depression in their lives, it’s just inevitable. And on the other side, there is a song like I SEVER where for me like, for instance, I was really unhappy in 2016, I was unhappy with Sylosis, and it’d been like my whole life was dedicated towards Sylosis and I’ve been doing it for over ten years, but I was really unhappy. And I never would have thought I could ever stop doing the band, that was just never a question, but when I did stop the band that was like the best thing for me because I was happier, I didn’t have this weight on my shoulders and sometimes that kind of thing is really beneficial. You have to make some huge changes sometimes to break out of negative cycles you might be going through. It’s like, if you don’t change anything, nothing is gonna change for you if you’re unhappy. Sometimes it can be cutting people out of your life, that have a negative influence in your life or bring you down or for some people it could be cutting out alcohol or drugs or whatever it is. So that’s kinda what I Sever it’s about.
- So basically I SEVER is your lead single, is this related to the mindset behind choosing this song as best representing the album? It that the reason why you chose it?
Not really, not because of the lyrics. Mainly just because of the music, the musical aspect. I think it felt like a really strong comeback song and it felt very classic Sylosis’ vibes but still like moving the band forward. It just felt like really a good song to come back with and it wasn’t necessarily because of the lyrical thing.
- I also would love to discuss my favorite track off the record, which is INVIDIA. It’s very epic, it’s beautiful. Can you give me more details about the song?
Yeah, that was one of the first songs written for the album. To be honest some of the parts of the song may go back to 2014 so it’s been a long time working on that one. But lyrically I guess it’s like you always want something that someone else has and when you get it, it’s never what you ought it would be. It’s like the grass is always greener kind of thing, you always want whatever someone else has. You think someone else’s like is perfect and you never really know what’s going on with someone else’s life, they might be having like a really bad time internally. So it’s like, a jealousy kind of thing, I guess it’s what it’s dealing with. But that’s just the way that everyone wants more than they have and can’t, it’s about being just content with what they have, and just to be grateful. And myself included, I’m not saying it’s like pointing fingers at anyone else. That’s the actual translation for it, because “invidia” is Italian, so.. Yeah.
- What song do you consider to be the most experimental on the record?
Abandon, the last track I guess.
- What were the challenges you experienced in the writing or recording stages, if any?
The main challenges for me were all in the mixing, just balancing everything and making sure it sounded good. I really like mixing music, really into production and into the technical elements of mixing a record. I felt like there are people out there that could do it better than me, but there’s so much that goes into the Sylosis’ music and I’m so particular on how I want it to sound that it’s easier for me to just try do it myself, because I don’t have to go back and forth saying: “Oh can you change this, can you make this louder and these kind of things”. So the mix was the hardest, yeah.
- Josh you’re also a guitarist for ARCHITECTS, which is one of my favourite metalcore bands, so how can you actually balance your life in between ARCHITECTS, SYLOSIS, your private life? How do you manage? How hard is it?
I think on the surface it looks like we’re busier than we are maybe, with Architects. I mean the band is busy, but we don’t overdo things. So last year, for instance, we did a month in UK and Europe, then we had a few months off, then we did a month in America. Then we had just a bunch of weekends in the summer of festivals and later on we had two weeks in Australia, and that was all the tour we did that year. So like, we’re constantly touring, we’re constantly going to places and that kind of thing, but realistically there was not even half a year of touring, so there’s still a lot of down time between bands. So I don’t think it’s too much of a challenge to fit both bands.
- In what measure have you changed as individual being across your career in the music industry Josh?
I am definitely more open to collaborating now or having outsiders’ opinions and a lot of that comes from being in Architects, because since I joined I’ve been writing with Dan, the drummer of Architects. So I’ll come to the band with a song and then he will, you know, trim the fat and make it better and work on the material I have given him. The beginning was very hard for me, because I never have done that with my music before. So it’s a tricky adjustment for me to get used to. But it’s for the better, it’s definitely something I’m trying to let go of in a lot of ways. I wouldn’t say that I’m like a huge control freak, but I write a lot of music and I feel really strongly about music, especially if it comes from like an emotional place when I’m writing it, so I’m kind of protective over it. I’m definitely not a control freak in my life in general, but when it comes to music I’m very strong minded so it’s healthy for me to get used to collaborating with people and accepting other people’s outside influences into the band. You’re a perfectionist. Yeah.
- Yesterday night you played in London as headliners at the Islington Assembly Hall. This was your very first gig after four years. So what feelings and memories have you brought back with you?
I don’t know, it was just tough, we did rehearsing for a while but nothing prepares you for playing live when you just got adrenaline and that kind of stuff. It was dusting off some cobwebs for sure, but it was really enjoyable. And the crowd was so loud, I think it’s the loudest and biggest headline crowd we’ve ever played to. It kinda just goes by very quickly though, you know, it feels like it goes so quickly when you’re on stage. But yeah, it was great.
- Alright I got a final, difficult question for you Josh. Sure thing. Nowadays many bands are drastically changing their sound for whatever reasons. How important is it to evolve beyond metal or conversely, how important is it to stick to your signature sound? How do you see the current metal scene?
In terms of changing sound, I think it’s important to try new things. It kinda depends on the band because, for instance, I love bands like Testament and Cannibal Corpse and they have really consistent metal albums. They don’t really change their sound but they try new things on each album which is cool for me. I love that for those bands. Then there are some bands that are constantly changing their sound. Sometimes it could be cool to follow, some bands do really well. I think for Sylosis we’ll always have one foot in what we’ve now established as our sound, but I always like to keep one foot there and put the other foot somewhere else we’ve ever been, if that makes sense. But it’s hard to know where we’re going but I’m really excited about writing new music. In terms of the metal scene now, I don’t see lots of new bands coming up, that excite me personally, at least in a traditional metal world, in terms of like you know, more kind of straight-ahead metal. That doesn’t seem really much happening. I don’t’ know, if you remember like fifteen year ago, when we had bands like Lamb Of God coming up, they’re just like a straight-ahead metal band I’d call them, you know. And there’s not really any bands really in that kind of straight up metal world coming through. But that doesn’t say there aren’t great bands, just in terms of talking about metal specifically in the more like traditional sense. There’s nothing I really enjoy, but there are definitely some great bands like, I really like this band called Loathe from the UK. Yeah, yeah, they just got their new record out last week. Yeah, and I love all kind of stuff. I feel like that in hardcore music, there’s a lot of bands doing unique and interesting things. I like all kinds of music. I’d rather there was a really cool straight-ahead metal band was coming up because I feel like it’s something that’s kinda missing from heavy music. Like I said, there’s no bands coming up like Lamb of God or whoever else that’s just doing like straight-ahead metal stuff. For Sylosis, people say before it used to be thrashy and progressive but I think the sound is just gonna evolve, but it’s always gonna be metal I think. So that’s where we’re at I guess.
So we’re done Josh, it’s been a pleasure, thank you so much for your time. No worries, it was great to speak to you. All the best of luck for the promotion of your record, it’s amazing! Thank you.
SYLOSIS – CYCLE OF SUFFERING tracklisting:
1. Empty Prophets
2. I Sever
3. Cycle Of Suffering
7. Idle Hands
8. Apex Of Disdain
9. Arms Like A Noose
10. Devils In Their Eyes
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