It is a little-known fact that SonicAbuse is staffed by Magpies, possessed of a deep love of shiny things, hence our particular love of bands who pay particular care and attention to packaging their music in a special, unique way. There have been many bands who have impressed over the years – My Dying Bride, The Ocean, Katatonia and Opeth to name but a very few, and to these esteemed acts we can add Beyond The Styx, an alternative hardcore band who take immense pride in the presentation of their art and whose EP comes packaged in a handsome digi-pack complete with lyric booklet that folds out into a rather stunning poster. Such care is to be commended, particularly in these days of record label and consumer apathy, and it is bands such as Beyond The Styx who make being a music fan such a rich, rewarding experience.
Happily the sense of ambition and invention which led BTS to package their EP in so elegant a fashion is also evident in the music. Offering a mere six tracks which whistle past in some twenty-two minutes, BTS are often a very intense listening experience, but they also appreciate the value of melody and good musicianship and time and again, just as you’re taking a battering from the percussive assault of Adrien and the none-more-brtual vocals of Emile, Mickey and Antho’ take a break from kicking out skull-crushing riffs and unleash fluid, graceful solos that not only compliment the music but raise the band’s stock from the realms of the good to the great.
Of the six tracks on offer on ‘Sloughing off the shades’, the first track is ‘prelude to the shades’, a brief and atmospheric intro that leads the listener headlong into ‘between Scylla and Charybdis’ (featured as a video clip below), a song that introduces the band’s hardcore credentials with a scream that rattles the fillings in your teeth. With intelligent and well-written lyrics at the heart of the song, the band have risen to the challenge of providing a suitably well-defined backdrop for them, the bruising guitars and deathly vocals only a small part of the puzzle, the on-a-dime tempo changes and shifts in style proving to be one of the most devastating weapons at BTS’ disposal. ‘Petroleum’ is a rampaging, full-tilt blast that sets the adrenalin racing through your body as the riffs pile up over a comparatively simple rhythmic backdrop and the vocals tear holes through the fabric of the song. ‘Xcalibur (call to sword)’ is one of the most crushing tracks here, cruising on an almost Meshuggah-esque groove before tearing off into a more hard-core orientated mode that incorporates fast-paced rhythms and choppy guitars that maintain their mercurial character throughout the track, never staying still long enough to be adequately described – you’ll need to listen to the track in order to make your own judgement.
‘Labyrinthectomy’ is a slower piece that, despite its unflinching heaviness, packs a strong emotional punch with its subtle melodies woven into the fabric of the song and existential lyrical content. Final track ‘heca 3’ rounds the EP out all too quickly with a stunning riff that churns over you as Emile’s increasingly harrowing vocals draw the band into death metal territory. It is a suitably satisfying ending to an EP that does not let itself slip into cliché once over the course of its twenty-two minute run time. Heavy, intelligent and with well-written lyrics Beyond The Styx deserve to go far.
Clearly an ambitious band, Beyond The Styx have attitude, musical skills and imagination in spades. It’s good to see the band taking such care over the packaging of their work and it will surely encourage people to make an effort to buy the physical version of this excellent release. Gloriously heavy, pummelling and packed with variation, ‘Sloughing off the shades’ is a hard-hitting and well-written blast of death-infused hardcore and is well worth checking out.