Album Review: Sumo Cyco – Initiation

Sumo Cyco

photo by Francesca Ludikar; photo courtesy of Napalm Records

Album Review of Sumo Cyco: Initiation (Napalm Records)

Sumo Cyco has moved in and out of my awareness over the years, always attention-grabbing while clearly honing its sound with each successive release. Sumo Cyco is a heavy rock band with a raw metal edge and a punk attitude. Sonically, the band has the aggression and speed of many bands in its musical neighborhood with a world-class lead singer (Skye “Sever” Sweetnam) capable of bringing a level of tunefulness and softness to the mix, exploiting the ability to provide greater contrast to her raw, roaring metal vocals. In other words, range. The ability to achieve that range provides interesting contrasts within individual cuts but also the capacity to deliver a broader range of songs within an identifiable Sumo Cyco heavy rock style, satisfying core heavy rock fans while appealing to perhaps a broader demographic, particularly on individual tracks. Of course, “Sever” doesn’t achieve that range of musical styles all by herself. Serious props to the rest of this band: Matt “MD13” Drake (lead guitar), Matt “Trozzi” (drums), and Oscar Aneset (bass). You all know by now how much I love versatile bands like this, and upon sampling a couple of songs on the new album, Initiation, I knew Sumo Cyco had delivered a musical collection I needed to write about.

Sumo Cyco – Initiation

image courtesy of Napalm Records

Like any good heavy rock band, Sumo Cyco kicks the album off with a couple of its most aggressive songs, appropriately greeting listeners to Cyco City with “Love You Wrong”. This track begins with a crash and rawly shouted vocals, and throughout the song the tempo and vocal aggression suggest mosh pits and a frantic, fear-filled confused rampage, but the lesser-instrumented verses and monster hooky chorus more welcomingly reel the listener in. Yes, the chorus is primarily “Not gonna love you, not gonna love you wrong” repeated several times, but damn, it’s an earworm. With each successive listen, this increasingly becomes a favorite. Then again, that’s true of so many of the tunes on this disc.

Perhaps the next-most-rough-edged song on the disc, “Bystander” aggressively urges actively taking part in your life, as if you couldn’t guess from the title. Worth noting is the rhythmic drum-driven bridge that accompanies the lyrics “We are uninvited, watching from afar. We are all misguided, divided, falling apart.” The most infectious part of “Bystander,” though, is its unrelenting, insistent pace.

Next up, “Vertigo” shows shades of Lady Gaga-meets-Gwen Stefani through the lens of a ’90s pop-punk-influenced mainstream heavy rock band. It’s all beat and rhythm atop grinding guitar and a wall of staticky background vocals. Very effective… and sound effect-ive.

Sumo Cyco

photo by Francesca Ludikar; photo courtesy of Napalm Records

The end of “Vertigo” flows sonically directly into “Bad News,” with rhythmic vocal verses ultimately combining with another one of those monster hook choruses. Actually, something you might find at a dance club in a vampire movie, an intense, energetic rock track with a sort of underlying club mix vibe.

Next, “No Surrender” thrashes tunefully, before “M.I.A.” follows with a rhythmic spoken-song effort that, of all the songs on Initiation, most closely resembles one Gwen Stefani would perform. But, of course, Sumo Cyco-style. Lyrically, you’ll find yourself hooked on “Do you remember? ‘Cause I forget.”

The back half of this album begins with “Cyclone.” The speed-guitar runs and aggressively, sneakily melodic verse are among this track’s standout features, though the softly sung “I can’t help myself I’m falling, in a downward spiral I’m falling…” will also pleasantly catch you off guard.

There’s a reggae-esque opening to “Run With the Giants”… up until the ripping guitars and sirens. But you can hear and enjoy the meshing of reggae and hard rock throughout – an enjoyably, intentionally harsh transition between the styles at times, smoother at others. The driving chorus is supported by a full, distorted heavy rock sound while implanting in your brain the memorably repeated “Gotta run with it, gotta run with it, yeah we’ll run with the giants!” You’ll be singing along by song.

“Overdrive,” next, has a serious funky rhythm and dancefloor vibe that almost overrides (overdrives?) its rockin’ guitar line, while “Power & Control” has just a hint of a soul-rock vibe, especially where Skye/Sever lets her voice soar a bit… with, you know, a much thrashier music bed.

One of the most memorable songs on the album, though, is “This Dance is Doomed.” You’ll frantically sing along with “doom da da da doom da da da day,” sometimes hours or days after you actually last heard the song.

The album closes with bonus track “Awakened,” which you’ll not find on every release. This song opens catchily with a tuneful “My heart’s been awakened…” It then flows into a classic-cool heavy rock vibe, yet still a bit sidewinding, befitting Sumo Cyco’s trademark style. It’s a fun, energetic way to end an album, though the prior song, if that’s the last on your version of Initiation, also provides a great final sendoff. They both encourage another listen. Immediately. Over and over.

In the end, Sumo Cyco is a unique band. One of a kind. The kind of band whose music deserves a spot in a well-rounded playlist. If you love it loud, you’re gonna love this heavy rock masterwork, Initiation – some songs immediately while others will grow on you like a fungus. But you won’t have anything else quite like Sumo Cyco’s music in your collection, and once you’ve heard it, you’ll occasionally crave it.

I’m hoping to get a chance to catch Sumo Cyco live one of these days. They do a great job of transferring their energy into their recordings, but I can only imagine how much they must rock the room live. For those of you in the UK, there are some dates listed on the “events” tab of the band’s Facebook page – a late October/early November tour with Wednesday 13. As always during a pandemic, double-check event status before leaving the house.

Post-Publication Addendum: It looks like the Sumo Cyco/Wednesday 13 UK tour has been postponed until 2022, per this Facebook post. COVID-19 strikes again. Yep, always a good idea to double-check (ahead of time and even day of show) before traveling any distance to a concert during a pandemic. -GW

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