Not your auntie's doom

Sylvia melds ancient fury with new energy
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  February 6, 2014

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THUNDEROUS GALLOP Sylvia thrashes valiantly

Sure, it may be Latin for “forest of trees,” but Sylvia more readily conjures some wiseacre aunt, not a burly group of veteran musicians trying to carve new notches in well-trod forms of heavy metal. On their 30-minute debut album, Sylvia act as a bridge between the cultures of riff-driven, mid-tempo heaviness that any pub-goer would crush a few to, and the more recent, thought-provoking strains of doom and black metal that have permeated US circles. This tension is constant over the self-titled album’s eight songs, pitting metal’s established elements — protracted riff-y buildups, moshy ripostes, and galloping bridges — against its newer, more dynamic ideas.

It It helps that their aesthetic tosses off several of metal’s pieties from the start. The grandmotherly name, for one, but also the cheeky song titles, which replace the genre’s exhausted invocations of darkness with an inscrutable urban wit. It’s refreshing. Metal is no stranger to irony, but usually it comes in the form of wink-wink devil horns and self-conscious fantasy references, not playful verbal puns.

“Hot Summer Knights” saddles a stoner guitar line over a series of sludgy, hiccuping measures before barreling into a lurching, oddly syncopated section that sounds like a skipping record. It’s subtle, but when the structure returns later in the thrash part, it’s proof that Sylvia’s songs are held together by dynamic, rhythmic flourishes just like these. Seesawing through black metal and lysergic sludge, “Luv U 2 Death” could be Sylvia’s signature track, and likely the album’s best. It manages to cram a ton of heavy metal grammar into an awesome three and a half minutes, no section sounding forced or rushed, and shows how electrifying this band can be when playing fast, a refreshing break from the majority of Maine metal over recent years.

One of Sylvia’s trademarks are the gifted pipes of Candy, who Maine metal fans surely remember as the frontman for the doom group Ocean. Candy’s vocals here are characteristically assaulting, a mid-frequency blast of in-the-red sonics that play nicely into the hands of sound engineer Steve Austin, who has a noticeable tendency to make singers sound a lot like his own voice in the iconic project Today is the Day. You could probably count the people in Portland who possess Candy’s presence on one hand (and none of them would dare to be this loud), but for all its expressiveness, I keep searching for something else beneath it. His terrible, deafening scream invokes a blind pure rage that is instantly relatable, but it’s rare that it contains any inflection, modulation, or hints of melody — it’s a flat plane of sustained paroxysm. Metal lyrics are typically unintelligible, but Candy’s a vocalist who puts the entirety of himself into the body of the scream but rarely the thought behind it, which can flatten his otherwise incredible capacity and make every passage seem like its referencing the same primordial scar.

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