Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Singles Collection: Sonic Syndicate "Black Hole Halo" Review

I have to be totally honest, I'm actually not a fan of Sonic Syndicate. However, after hearing just how bad a reception their last album (2010's We Rule The Night) had (to say it was poorly received would be an understatement!), I couldn't help finding my curiosity pointing towards their single for their upcoming self-titled fifth album. Call me a masochist if you want to...

Anyway, for those of you who are not familiar with the band, I'll give you a brief history of the band. The roots of Sweden's Sonic Syndicate came together in 2000 in the form of Tunes Of Silence, a band which included soon-to-be-founding members of Sonic Syndicate Richard, Roger and Robin Sjunnesson (the first two are brothers: Robin is their cousin). This band had A LOT of line up issues in their first two years, going through eight members between 2000 and 2002. I don't know for certain whether Tunes Of Silence was the Sjunnesson's band or not, since I've seen sources which indicate they broke away from the band and others which indicate that the band simply changed their name, but, either way, the Sjunnesson's next band was Fallen Angels, which they formed in 2002 with Andreas Martensson, Magnus Svensson and Kristoffer Backlund. This line up (with Richard on vocals, Roger on lead guitar and Robin on rhythm guitar) recorded and self-released two demos together in 2003 (Fall From Heaven and Black Lotus) before bassist Karen Axelsson replaced Magnus Svensson (what is it with the Swedish's fondness for doubling the number of times you need to use the letter "s"? Did they get an excess number of them when playing Scrabble or something?). This line up recorded 2004's demo Extraction and Sonic Syndicate's first album (although some still consider it to be a release by Fallen Angels, despite the name change occurring), 2005's Eden Fire. This album arguably contained the roots of the band's most well known line up, as the band's soon-to-be co-lead vocalist Roland Johansson was one of several session vocalists on the album.

Anyway, 2006 was when the band had their first real shake up of the band's line up, as Johansson joined the band while keyboardist Andreas Martensson and drummer Kristoffer Backlund were asked to leave due to lack of interest in the band and musical differences. Backlund (who is now in What Tomorrow a vocalist, not a drummer!) was replaced with John Bergsston, while Roger Sjunnesson would take up keyboards and programming for the band after Martensson's departure. This line up would release two albums together, 2007's Only Inhuman and 2008's Love And Other Disasters (both of which was produced, interestingly enough, by Scar Symmetry guitarist Jonas Kjellgren, another melodic death metal band that also currently uses a double vocalist line up after the departure of their vocalist Christian Alvestam, who is generally considered to be the Mike Patton of melodic death metal...for the benefit of those not familiar with Mike Patton, that pretty much translates to "ridiculously wide vocal range combined with ridiculous versatility!").

It was after this when things started to get...interesting, to put it mildly. Roland Johansson quit the band due to a combination of issues with touring and personal life in 2009, later getting replaced by Nathan Biggs. He proceeded to sing on the band's 2010 album We Rule The Night, which...well, I mentioned in the intro how well THAT was received. The album also proved to be the last straw for Richard Sjunnesson, who left in October 2010 due to issues with the musical direction of the band. This caused Robin to step up to do backing vocals for the band after Christopher Andersson (who is currently the rhythm  guitarist and growl vocalist for What Tomorrow Brings (remember me mentioning them earlier?) and is also doing screamed vocals for Dead After April) temporarily joined the band to fill in for Richard. The band took a break so that Roger Sjunnesson and John Bengtsson could focus on a new band with Richard Sjunnesson and Roland Johansson called The Unguided (whose debut album, Hell Frost, has artwork on it that looks uncannily like a daemon prince from the Warhammer Fantasy Battles tabletop wargame, if you ask me...), Biggs could do reviewing for Metal Hammer (which, incidentally, is something I've considered doing myself...anyone know how to apply to review for them and want to share the details?) and Karin began to study (I can't find what she did study, though). The band's return in May 2012 also had the news that Roger had left the band for undisclosed reasons (although he apparently is still on good terms with the other guys).

Since then, The Unguided (who apparently aren't allowed to perform material written by Sonic Syndicate due to Robin being the only member of the band refusing to let the guys do it...) have released their second album (with more artwork that is very reminiscent of Warhammer Fantasy Battles), Fragile Immortality, in early 2014 (which also featured Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian on a bonus track on the album) and Sonic Syndicate, not to be outdone, have returned (...well, will return) with July's self-titled album.

And the first single from it was released onto youtube on the 16th of May. Yeah, a bit later than I probably should have done this, but, bear in mind, I only decided to do this today!

So, without further ado, let's hear what Sonic Syndicate have to offer us...

OK, before I start, I will admit that I've not listened to any of the band's previous stuff. So, if some of my comments seem odd to those aware of the band, please forgive my ignorance!

First of all, let's look at Nathan Bigg's vocals. He does a combination of harsh vocals and clean vocals and, honestly, I get reminded of Howard Jones (formerly of Killswitch Engage) with his clean vocals and a combination of Ronny Thorsen (formerly of Trail Of Tears) and Matt Heafy (of Trivium) with his harsh vocals. I don't know how he compares to his predecessors, but I have to say I really like this combination of vocals from the guy. Kudos to him, he sounds pretty good at what he does!

The music is very reminiscent of Gothenburg metal (think melodic death metal mixed with a bit or electronic music) mixed with metalcore, as there's these little programmed bits of music that add a dark and ominous edge to the music in a way that really enhances the songs, but the way the song is structured is rather reminiscent of metalcore (although I don't think there's anything that could be fairly called a breakdown in the song). It's got a chorus that is pretty catchy if you're into this style of music as well, which is definitely a nice touch. It's also fairly well performed as well, although it's nothing especially complicated by extreme metal standards.

However, I have to point out a noticeable flaw that springs to mind: the lyrics. They're not unbearably bad, but it says a lot that the first part of the chorus is almost like an overly used joke ("Halo/Halo/Just how low can you go"? Seriously, guys? I get English isn't your first language, but...actually, no, you don't even have that excuse if Nathan Biggs wrote the lyrics, as he's British!) and, if you're not into metalcore in the slightest, these lyrics WILL strike you as somewhat whiney (indeed, I get surprisingly reminded of "Lift Me Up" by Five Finger Death Punch with some of the lyrics...). It's probably a bit too typical of the metalcore subgenre in that regard, but I would not say that being typical of the genre is automatically bad!

The mixing is also fairly weak. The guitars are suspiciously undermixed a lot of the time, to the extent that you'd be forgiven for not noticing them a lot of the time in the song if you're not playing the song at loud volumes. The drums are also a bit too loudly mixed. Do I really need to hear every single cymbal hit over the guitars and every use of the kick drum throughout the whole song, even at fairly low volume on my computer? Probably not. The bass is also suspiciously quiet, but hey, extreme metal bassists generally don't do anything particularly interesting, so I'll let that one slide. The mastering also seems to be a bit loud, but, again, this is an issue with extreme metal in general, so I can't really complain too much about this.

So thoughts? The mixing and mastering lets the song down a bit and the lyrics could have done with some improving, but, in and of itself, the song is pretty enjoyable. It's not going to be a favourite song for anyone, but it's enjoyable enough and the chorus has a strong enough hook that you'll likely be humming it for a while once you've gone away from the computer.

Final rating: 6 out of 10

If you're into this style of music, this is definitely worth a listen, but it isn't likely to be your favourite song in this genre of music. If you're not, then you probably won't enjoy this much, but it's not so bad that you'll hate it with a burning passion, unless you can't stand extreme metal vocals!

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