Sylvain comes from Grant the Sun, a Norwegian progressive groove metal band. The trio cover a wide range of influences, from post-metal up to progressive death. The album is mindbendingly technical, but is still a fairly immediate listen. The instrumentalists are highly skilled, although don’t neglect the importance of throwing in a few infectious, groovy riffs to keep the listener’s attention. A quick listen brings titans such as Mastodon, Deftones and Gojira to mind; no surprise, then, to hear that Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah was enlisted to play on Sylvain. It is testament to the quality of the songs, that this record doesn’t necessarily need multiple listens to be appreciated. This is no mean feat for such a progressive band, where any vocals are sparse and limited to samples. With that said, the more you allow yourself to be taken in by Sylvain, the more gifts and gems you’ll discover.
The album lures you in softly and ethereally, before unleashing a heavy, progressive riff with sludgy undertones. It brings Deftones at their trippiest to mind, if they’d collaborated with Mastodon about a decade ago. A downtuned riff of pure groove and fury bursts in immediately afterwards, in a lower register, where the majority of Sylvain sits. Grant the Sun introduce subtle atmospherics and crescendos midway through. Towards the end, a beautifully written section with disparate musical modes brings in further light and shade, that doesn’t forgo any of its groove. Dans l’Espace is a behemoth of a first track. The time signatures, riffs and sections feel like they’re everywhere, but are tightly controlled, without a doubt. Sophomore track Tempête d’Astéroïdes arrives with deranged, jolty time signatures and phrasing akin to a medical emergency. It comes as quickly as it goes, being just over a couple of minutes long. It’s almost like being under an aggressive trance.
Arrivée Dangereuse follows in a similar vein to the last track, with convulsive beats, although here the band really show off their affinity for post-metal and atmosphere. The chord sequence (you’ll know the one when you hear it) has a real uplifting quality to it. Sur Jupiter is a true epic to round everything off. Its arrival is pure Meshuggah, but with Deftones-esque chord changes to accompany it. A beautiful, spacey post-metal section floats in, which complements the song title perfectly (in English, it translates to ‘on Jupiter). Yet, a truly punishing, knock-out groove brings you straight back down again, with all the gravity of, well, Jupiter itself. It’s strongly reminiscent of Meshuggah at their heaviest. Did you think Bleed was hard to play on guitar? The section also allows for some mesmerising, well-phrased progressive lead guitar work. This filthy groove serves as the main outro to the record, leaving you unsure whether to gurn in disgust or allows the atmospheric, effects-laden guitars to send you to another realm. Before you know it, Sylvain is all over and you’re back to Earth.
Sylvain does not really ‘feel’ like a four-track EP. It’s better conceptualised as a single song over the course of 18 minutes, not too dissimilar to Meshuggah’s I from fifteen years back, albeit with much less of Meshuggah’s trademark blistering intensity. It’s probably fair to say that Sylvain sounds more cohesive as a record than I, as well. The four-song structure works well, with two longer tracks sandwiching the two shorter ones. Based on this, you’ve got a strong start, a strong finish, and it feels complete. If you’re like me, you probably only wish there was more.
Sylvain is a fantastic late release to add to your best-of-2019 lists. It’s got everything from gentle ambiences to wall-punching brutality. The musicianship is technical, but without needlessly showing off. It’s surprisingly accessible for a progressive, instrumental release. Now is the time to take note of this band – they’re onto something special.
Sylvain is out tomorrow on Mas-Kina Recordings
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