Help – It’s an alarming word. A word that is never used lightly on its own merits. In order for a person to ask for help, they must believe that they alone cannot accomplish a task. With that in mind, it should be clear that asking for such assistance is the very definition of exhausting every last option that involves going it alone. And then giving over the reins to someone else.
For Queens, New York’s hip-hop/metal hybrid Sylar to title their first release on Hopeless Records Help!, a sense of worry may overcome any record-store browser or Spotify listener that sees the album cover. Why is this band not only asking asking for help, but exclaiming it? Are they okay?
Sylar are actually great, musically. Covering a diverse combination of in-your-face hip-hop, emotive R&B and aggressive metalcore, they’re a uniquely refreshing five-piece who wear their urban influences on their sleeves. Considering Sylar strictly Nu-Metal restricts a good portion of their overall approach. There are moments in their catalog that would sound at home in Limp Bizkit’s territory, bit there’s just as many that could co-exist with the hardcore stomp of Obey The Brave and raucous genre bending of Issues.
First thing’s first: Why exactly IS there a figure seen spray-painting the word “Help!” onto a brick wall on the album cover? The reason to ask for help so vividly could never be a small one. And in this case, it certainly isn’t. That figure is vocalist Jayden Panesso. This record, Sylar’s fourth technically (second full-length), follows Panesso’s descent into self-harm which caused him to end up in a hospital bed and nearly lose his life. The record wastes no time in establishing such urgency – “Help” is both the first and last word uttered by Jayden. Because of this dark and nearly tragic situation, equally as bleak themes permeate Help!. Be it through portrayals of heartbreak, abandonment or a lack of self-worth, this is one of the most nakedly personal heavy records of 2016.
In order for this story to be told with the proper power, Sylar needed to be a cohesive unit, which they are. I can tell that much personal growth for every member of the band was associated with the creation of all eleven tracks. Few records this year have featured such an outpouring of emotion.
That’s not to say that Help! is nothing but negativity. As a matter of fact most of the record’s most memorable moments are reaching points of persevering positivity. When Jayden declares himself as his own shelter against a metaphoric group of storm clouds in “Me, Myself & I” his confidence can be felt. “Doubting Out”‘s chorus may not be sang by Jayden, but guitarist/primary clean singer Miguel Cardona does an excellent job of making the listener hear the hope that lines like “Everytime I get down, I remind myself where I’ve been” were written with and makes the track into a cathartic anthem. Most notably, album closer “Maintain Closure” is superb at establishing not only the personal improvement that Jayden has achieved, but Sylar as a whole.
That being said, Sylar really have become a tighter unit than previously heard on breakdown-heavy, electronic metalcore record To Whom It May Concern. For starters, the songwriting is majorly improved. Screams aren’t present just to make role call. Instead, Jayden utilizes his screams as a means of emphasizing his emotion. And his mid-range roar has developed into one of his scene’s most powerful. Alternatively, Miguel Cardona’s singing abilities stand up great to Jayden’s screams. They’re full of emotion and power. Miguel is also the source of every huge hook on Help!, without fail. Also, instead of repeating the same verse with different lyrics, song progressions are utilized in clever ways. In “Soul Addiction” Miguel gets his own R&B bridge which works well with the atmospheric first verse Jayden screams over. To contrast the softer nature of the song, the chorus is a soaring belter and establishes a vibe of desperation. For the music listener that is able to pick up on emotional shifts, contrasts and consistency, Help! is both a delight and a roller coaster of different vibes. This is my personal favorite aspect of what makes Sylar who they are. “I Know, You Know, I Know” improves on this even further by having Jayden introducing the first half of the chorus for Miguel to repeat and launch into the chorus. Jayden’s softer singing contrasts Miguel’s shouty way of singing perfectly. This track in particular gave me chills and caused me to pick up on the heartbreak portrayed within.
Make no mistake either – Help! is heavy. Breakdowns are a meager fraction of what actually composes heaviness and Sylar understand this to such a high degree, musicians no matter the genre should take note. Travis Hufton, Miguel Cardona and Dustin Jennings’ guitar work maintains a steady sway aided by drumming Thomas Veroutis, most notably in the opening title track and the most fully-realized Sylar track to-date “Gambit Rogue Delight”. Record scratching by Issues’ DJ Scout Accord, heavy screamed verses, a rapped pre-chorus, soaring Linkin Park-reminiscent chorus and even lyrical callbacks to “Deadbeat” make this an album highlight. Elsewhere, “Dark Daze” is a close second with its atmospheric refrain and Jayden’s best rapping on the record. The line “My days feel like a movie with no happy ending, for all those spectating just skip to the credits, I’m ready” not only showcases good flow but passionate and creative lyricism. The odd one out on Help! is “Pleasure Paradise” as it focuses entirely on Jayden with no vocal work from Miguel. In this track, it feels as if Jayden takes on an alternate persona and dons an ego, calling out all of his haters and clones. If not for Sylar’s hip-hop influence this track would feel entirely out of place, but it ends up feeling refreshingly tongue-in-cheek and never too over-the-top.
What shouldn’t be underestimated is the timing of the release of this record. Help! sticks with a style that is heavy enough to headbang to, but melodic enough to hum along with. The active rock world has already embraced the brilliant lead single “Assume” and that’s just as well because the track showcases Sylar’s approach to being in the heavy scene and attention-grabbing chemistry arguably better than any other moment on the record. Though it’s worth mentioning that no track is lacking in the dynamics department nor is any track not ridiculously catchy. For the listener seeking accessibly catchy alternative metal, the music nerd who loves dissecting each and every part of a song (me) and anyone who just wants to jump in the pit, hearing the formidable consistency of Help! is going to be a revered moment in terms of new music releases this year.