Before taking on this review, I’d heard rumblings that Sonic Syndicate were embarking on a massive departure from their Melodic Death Metal roots and starting afresh with a new line-up (Robin Sjunnesson being the last remaining original member in the band) and a switch in musical direction. Well, they weren’t kidding us at all with their latest album, entitled ’Confessions’ – the question is, are long-time fans prepared for it?
I certainly appreciate any artists’ bold decision to completely overhaul their sound and understand the desire to maintain creative interest by expanding and diversifying, but this is such a departure that I can’t make any connection whatsoever to the Sonic Syndicate of old. In all honesty, I feel that they should have called an end to Sonic Syndicate, or put it on hiatus, then produced this album under a different name altogether, because I’ll predict the majority of fans are likely to reject this monumental change, whilst anyone hearing the band for the first time are unlikely to be interested in what has come before. Better to draw a line under the last release and completely start over.
So, where to start with this album… firstly, it’s got a sound that has a more mainstream audience in mind. Gone are the harsh vocals and blistering Melodic Death guitar style – instead choosing a wash of uplifting electronics, poppy melodies and clean vocal harmonies complete with plenty of cringe-worthy “ooaaah” refrains. In fact, listening to this side-by-side against the likes of 30 Seconds To Mars, you’d struggle to notice much difference.
The first two tracks feature heavily-synthesised melodic vocal samples, with the style of opener ‘Confessions’ leaning towards a danceable Electronic-meets-Rock vibe, whilst ‘It’s A Shame’ covers ever-so-slightly heavier, yet still generic, Radio-Rock ground.
‘Start A War’ ups the cheese factor with those awful, previously mentioned “ooaaah” vocals. It’s far too prominent to really concentrate on much else, except for the programmed percussion, which notably switches rhythm from Dub-Step – complete with deep pulsating bass – to triplets and a straight 4:4 rhythm.
House piano chords open ‘Falling’, with treated, layered vocals in a very similar vein to Klayton of Celldweller/Scandroid/Circle Of Dust. There is Disco percussion running throughout this track, complimented by a mixture of modern, mainstream electronica and an up-tempo rhythm fitting of a typical summer party-festival vibe.
‘I like It Rough’ is my top (and quite possibly my only) pick of this album. The style stands somewhere between a mixture of the groove of Monster Magnet and the modern Heavy Rock of Alter Bridge. On hearing this played in a club, having not been told who the band was, I’d never have guessed it was Sonic Syndicate in a million years, but I’d definitely find myself nodding my head to it. The highlight is definitely the lead riff – it’s bold, driving and weighty, so this track will definitely get some repeat plays for sure.
‘Still Believe’ begins with dramatic reverb’d drums, panoramic synth pads and a vocal style that would be fitting of a male vocal harmony group, made worse by a sickly male/female duet performed with over-the-top emotional riffing normally reserved for those gushy performances by desperate TV talent show pop-star wannabes. The emotion in the performance comes across as very shallow and marks one of the biggest low points on the album. In fact, I’m struggling to find anything new to say as this album rolls on, as, sadly, it’s practically the same predictable, uplifting guitar progressions and cheesy, autopilot vocal performance on rinse-and-repeat from hereon in.
With lyrics seemingly pulled from the pages of Louis Walsh’s Book of Boy Band Belters* and tepid music to accompany them, I feel as though I’m officially mourning the band that used to be. I’m wishing they’d just made a completely fresh start – band name, everything!
Given how Sonic Syndicate broke onto the scene, winning a contest complete with a Nuclear Blast label deal and notable praise and endorsement from Anders of In Flames, this has to be a difficult pill for any long-time fan to swallow. I all for being musically open-minded, but I feel the end result is so hollow and lacking true emotion that it has become indistinguishable from much of the empty, throw-away pop music that has been churned out over the last 20 years or so.
To this album’s credit, the production is incredibly slick and it certainly merits plenty of praise for being a technically solid release, from the musicianship itself through to work of the engineers & producers. If only I’d enjoyed the lyrics and songwriting as much as the production, this would have been a much different review… oh well, I guess you just can’t please everyone.
*book doesn’t actually exist – and if it ever did, it really shouldn’t