If the crunch in the guitars of Sylvia‘s self-titled debut seem vaguely familiar, or if the overarching claustrophobic density of the eight-song outing sounds vaguely familiar, one might point to the involvement of Today is the Day mastermind Steve Austin, who is listed along with Shaun Curran and the band as having produced (though Curran recorded), and who also mixed and mastered the album at his Austin Enterprise studio. That influence shows up in some of the songs are a particular and peculiar atmospheric darkness — cuts like “Teddy Worm” and “Space Jaguar” make a few twists as well that are easily enough read as reminiscent — but the bulk of Sylvia‘s Sylvia is more stylistically nuanced than can really be tied to one band or another. The Portland, Maine, four-piece lock into black metal blasts and squibblies on “The Wolves of Brunch,” and offer Iron Monkey-style sludge on “Hot Summer Knights,” leaving plenty of room for on-a-dime shifts into post-High on Fire thrash, but really, it’s the combination of all these elements with just a touch of New England mosh on “Luv U 2 Death” and closer “Ukelalien” that gives the 31-minute long-player its personality. Well, that and the joke titles. Half of these songs showed up on Sylvia‘s 2012 Lizard Birdman demo, but the foursome of guitarist/vocalist Candy, bassist Reuben J. Little (both formerly of Portland mega-doomers Ocean), guitarist Sean Libby and drummer Andrew have a crisper sear to the sound of the full-length, and while that might actually take away from some of the lo-fi black metal edge, in turn, it also brings a more complex feel overall in letting the other stylistic elements shine through. The difference comes across clearly on opener “Lizard Birdman,” which at five minutes is the longest track on Sylvia (immediate points) and which sets an immediately blended tone for the rest of the songs to follow in one way or another.
A guest guitar spot from Gozu‘s Doug Sherman on the leadoff track makes it even more of a wrench in the gears of expectation, but “Lizard Birdman” also throws off the listener vocally. The first lines of the record are the only instance of clean vocals. Granted, they’re still shouts, but compared to the rasps that show up throughout the rest of the album, it might as well be Perry Como. One gets the sense in comparing “Lizard Birdman” to the rest of Sylvia, especially the 2:20 rush of “Teddy Worm,” which follows, that the band’s intention was to throw listeners off immediately. “Lizard Birdman” could just as easily have been the closer, but it’s where it is on purpose and toying with the audience seems to be why. A noble enough endeavor, and the opener is effective in its mission. Though the ensuing “Teddy Worm,” “Space Jaguar” and “Hot Summer Knights” essentially lean one way or another on influences from sludge, black metal, crust and thrash, committing to any over the other only for the briefest of moments if at all, the context for the brew is changed by the album’s first impression. Whether or not it makes the overall listening experience stronger than it otherwise might be, I don’t know, but it speaks to a meta-intent on the part of Sylvia, and as “Space Jaguar” switches between blackened screams and deathly growls en route to jagged and punkish starts and stops, it’s hardly the last time the four-piece will endeavor to make a show of their individuality and willful crossing of stylistic lines. The slower “Hot Summer Knights” takes peak-era Crowbar riffing and pairs it with an intense, semi-shuffle, splitting almost at the halfway mark to directly play one off the other. Following, “Luv U 2 Death” is no less ambitious, building to its darkened hardcore beatdown via black metal raging to start off the back end of the album perhaps in more typical fashion for the band’s general approach than “Lizard Birdman” started the first, though there’s still plenty of stylistic chicanery to come.