For those who have been wondering “what ever happened to Skye Sweetnam?”, here’s a surprise for you. Sumo Cyco is a punk rock/metal band out of Toronto, where Skye Sweetnam now resides as lead singer, under the alter ego of Sever. With MD13 (Matt Drake) on lead guitar and Thor (Ken Corke) on bass guitar, Sumo Cyco have produced two albums, a live EP, a number of cover singles and a tonne of music videos. I had intended to write a review of their first album, but by the time I got to it, their next album was just around the corner, so here’s a review of that instead.
When I first discovered Sumo Cyco, I was a bit horrified at the turn Skye Sweetnam’s musical style had taken. But after giving it a chance, I actually started to really enjoy it. And when you consider the transition from Noise From The Basement to Sound Soldier, you start to see how she got here; From punk pop, to punk rock, to punk metal. This evolution makes even more sense when you find out that some of the other members of Sumo Cyco used to be part of Skye’s tour band.
Skye has said that her aim with Sumo Cyco was “to be able to sing any style..[and] to not feel constricted by genre”, which shows in the variety present on both Lost In Cyco City (Sumo Cyco’s first album) and Opus Mar (their second album). Sometimes it can border on screamo or growling, sometimes it sounds like rap, and sometimes it can feel more like power pop, but mostly it falls under the general banner of metal. Skye herself has classed the band’s music generally as “dancehall metal”, inspired by UK band Skindred . I’m no heavy metal connoisseur, but I can tell you Sumo Cyco produces a punchy, yet danceable fusion of punk metal with any number of other styles in any given song. So even if you don’t much like some song, you’re likely to find one you do (unless you can’t stand rock/metal at all, in which case, this is not the band for you).
As I mentioned, I was going to review Sumo Cyco’s first album, Lost In Cyco City, but I never quite got around to it. Suffice to say, I liked its unique blend of fiery, soaring vocals with shredding guitars and body-shaking drums. Surprisingly, it reminded me, in parts, of some of Paramore’s really early stuff, but with less emo and more metal. So when I heard they were crowdfunding a new album through PledgeMusic, I was excited but cautious. While I enjoyed their first album, much of the music Sumo Cyco had released before that had been much heavier, and I was worried this new album might tip into territory outside my comfort zone. Ultimately though, the main thing that stopped me from pre-ordering was the cost. Shipping to Australia, plus a poor exchange rate, meant a copy of the CD alone would have set me back just under AU$50, which is just too much for a CD. Instead, I spent the first few weeks after the album came out repeatedly listening to it on Spotify. Now that I’m convinced of its quality, I’ll be buying it directly.
Sumo Cyco also posted a series of videos explaining the meaning and writing process behind each track on Opus Mar. I wrote most of this review before watching those videos, so I could give you my uninfluenced impressions and interpretation of the songs, but I did watch them later, so I could give a more definitive comment on the message of each song. Before watching the videos, I was a bit worried that hearing their meaning might make me dislike some of the tracks. However, it turned out that it only made me like most track even more.
As with my other album reviews, I’ve listed previous songs each track reminds me of (by Sumo Cyco or just Skye Sweetnam), with the album they come from, a rank for each track on this album, as well as a short comment about each track. Plus there’s an overview of the album as a whole at the bottom.
Reminds me of: My Name Is Rock N’ Roll [Lost In Cyco City], Interceptor [Interceptor]
Rank on this album: 4
A perfect opening track, Anti-Anthem sets the tone for the whole album, with its blend of punk rock, heavy metal and modern pop elements. It starts with faux radio noise, which instantly reminds me of the previous album, which also used effects like this to open. It’s a bit of a misnomer, but the band claims this was on purpose, because it’s arrogant to declare your own song an anthem. But the meaning behind it runs deeper than that, being about the plight of stateless refugees, with literally “no place to go”. The vocals really open up towards the end, and the track closes with more sample dialogue.
2. Free Yourself
Reminds me of: Brave [Lost In Cyco City]
Rank on this album: 1
Probably the catchiest track on the whole album, Free Yourself stuck in my head from the moment I heard it. With a heavy rocking intro, memorable chorus, relentless drums, and slick guitar riffs, this song is a perfect illustration of why I love this band. If you want to introduce Sumo Cyco to a friend, this would be my go-to track. It’s a fantastic anthem of self-reliance and looking to yourself for strength, rather than outside world.
3. Move Mountains ft. Benji Webbe
Reminds me of: (Let’s Get Movin’) Into Action [Sound Soldier], Like A Killer [Lost In Cyco City]
Rank on this album: 9
Tracks with featured artists are often divisive, and Move Mountains is no different. On the one hand, it’s an epic song with a dead simple, yet catchy hook, thumping drums and bass beats. I think I even heard a Wilhelm scream in there! On the other hand, Benji’s vocal part stands in stark contrast to Sever’s. While stylistically similar, his sound is so different and just wasn’t something I much enjoyed. For me, Skye’s vocals are one of the main points of attraction, so anything that reduces that is bad in my book. That said, I understand that it was a really big deal for the band to have one of their idols perform with them on the album (Benji Webbe is the frontman for Skindred), and the track grew on me. I can imagine a really awesome superhero-based music video for this song, which I hope gets made one day.
Reminds me of: We Ride [Lost In Cyco City], Mercy [Live Sessions 1]
Rank on this album: 11
Passengers delivers heavily on the two big themes of this album: the need for social change on Earth, and trains. It paints a vivid picture of how the earth is being destroyed, and we are all just passengers, along for the ride. It implores listeners to stop ignoring what’s happening and “fight for the promised land”. Even though they’re Canadian, the band said this track was also partially influenced by the USA election of 2016. Musically, Passengers delivers shredding guitars and drums, with a strange Maroon 5-esque bridge with electronic vocals.
5. Brave II
Reminds me of: Crowd Control (Do What We Want) [Lost In Cyco City]
Rank on this album: 5
Apart from its name, Brave II shares little in common with Brave, my favourite track from the original album. This song wears its meaning quite clearly on its sleeve, talking openly about the rise of conflict, extremism and echo chambers that exist in the world today. It encourages the listener to fight this wave of fear and anger with love, tolerance and open-mindedness. It would make a perfect backing track to a protest video. The band have said that the song was also influenced by the numerous shooting that have taken place in recent years in music venues, and is about having the guts to keep on doing what you want to, rather than living in fear or terror.
6. Sleep Tight
Reminds me of: Hypocrite [Noise From The Basement], Human [Sound Soldier], Cry Murder [Lost In Cyco City]
Rank on this album: 7
Sleep Tight opens with a softly-spoken intro, back by an endless guitar riff, which gives way to smashing guitar, and screaming verses. The bridge has a weird disco vibe to it. This song is about how money serves as the unspoken motivator for many, and how it drives marketing and the media to pull the wool over our eyes, in aid of capitalism.
Reminds me of: The Ugly [Lost In Cyco City], Shot To Pieces [Noise From The Basement]
Rank on this album: 2
Based on the experience of a fan dealing with suicide and depression, Rivalry is about facing your inner demons, and using music to fight the negativity. It’s solid rock all the way, with a punchy, pseudo-rap break for a bridge. Glitch effects and distortion add extra colour to vocals, which reminds me of the last Garbage album, except they work really well here.
8. Kids of Calamity
Reminds me of: Fuel My Fire [Lost In Cyco City], Danger [Danger]
Rank on this album: 12
Like it’s compatriots, Kids of Calamity focuses on the need for social change in the world. Specifically, in the way the previous generation is leaving the planet for the next. It is a call to arms for this new generation, to rise up and be better.
9. Won’t Put Me Out
Reminds me of: Go Go Go [Lost In Cyco City], Permanent Holiday (Locked in the Trunk of His Car) [Live Sessions 1]
Rank on this album: 6
With one of the calmest opening by Sumo Cyco’s standards, Won’t Put Me Out is a slow burn that builds through call-and-response verses. Ironically, this track is about being in the zone, on stage. There’s a great, stompy guitar riff that gives the track a vague tribal vibe.
Reminds me of: Fighter [Lost In Cyco City], Ultra [Sound Soldier]
Rank on this album: 3
Wordscombines fast, rapped verses with a simple, yet endlessly catchy chorus hook. The thing that sucked me in was the pop culture references in the first verse. The track, which is about the way people twist each other’s words when they fight, closes quite appropriately with distorted vocals seemingly glitching out.
11. The Broadcasters (Murdering by Radio)
Reminds me of: Where Do We Go? [Where Do We Go?], We Ride [Lost In Cyco City]
Rank on this album: 8
The Broadcasters starts, unsurprisingly, with the sound of a radio tuning. It’s mostly rap, backed by a gruff chant, that builds to each chorus, with soaring vocals in the bridge.
Reminds me of: Limp [Limp]
Rank on this album: 13
Rally opens with a racing guitar riff, which never lets up. A call-and-response chorus and crashing cymbals help keep the pace. The ending is a refreshing surprise, with light acoustic guitar and sweet vocals.
13. Building Castles
Reminds me of: Scary Love [Sound Soldier], Loose Cannon [Loose Cannon]
Rank on this album: 10
Building Castles tries to end the album on a high, positive note, talking about the reward for pushing through times of struggle. With a complex instrumental intro, and a bridge that reminded me of Lady Gaga, or Yiddish music full of running arpeggios, musically Sumo Cyco fulfills their goal. The train metaphor is completed as the song fades out to railway noise.
As a whole, Opus Mar flows really well. When I first listened to it, I didn’t even notice the transition between some of the track. It feels like one continuous musical journey, with endless variety and passion. In that way, it sort of reminded me of a live set, but much cleaner and crisper than live albums characteristically are. That said, each track stands well on its own, with some really coming into their own when listened to apart from the rest of the album.
Skye Sweetnam has always packed her lyrics dense with meaning and references, and with the amount of rap on Opus Mar, that’s truer than ever before. Yet every song still has a catchy, strong, and memorable chorus. All the song seems to be going at a million miles an hour; much faster than the last album, which had some pockets of solid, calm groove. Every track on this album also seems to have a bridge of one sort or another, be it in the form of a rap break, or a brief interlude in a totally different musical style, which really helps keeps some of the tracks feeling fresh.
Skye’s voice have always been amazing, and this album is no exception. That said, her sweeping, sweet yet powerful vocals are far less common on this album. As mentioned, it has a lot more rap and gruff metal voice than the last album, which will not be to everyone’s taste. For me, the addition of these elements wasn’t as off-putting as the loss of what they supplant. Although the scarcity does make those rare moments all the more powerful.
Many of the trimmings of modern music are here: reverb, distortion, glitch effects and the like. However, while these sorts of tricks are often employed to disappointing or plain-out distracting ends, they all seems to fit quite comfortably here. They’ve been used in ways that suit the style of music, and are appropriate within each track.
One thing I was surprised by, and on reflection sort of impressed by, is the fact that there are no explicit tracks on the album. Despite the fact that the whole album is about the sometime frustrating and seemingly hopeless quest for social change, Sever never resorts to swearing to get her point across.
The two main themes of this album, as mentioned above, are social change and trains. While the reoccurring train motifs are little more than a novelty, the push for social change is anything but. Sumo Cyco has clearly chosen to take a stand with this album, and make a statement about how they view the state of the world today, and what needs to be done to improve it. Almost every song makes mention of how terrible the world is these days, and how we can help change that. There’s definitely a sense of doom and gloom to it, but what makes it so impactful is that there’s also a sense of hope and empowerment too. Although Sumo Cyco is from the “Great White North”, their message seems to resonate remarkably with what’s been going on in America. No doubt it’s applicable all over, and has been for a while, but it feels much more present in people’s minds now.
Overall, Opus Mar is a strong, impactful, timely and rocking album full of music with a message. It may not be what you expect to hear from the teen popstar we knew as Skye Sweetnam, but that doesn’t overshadow its quality. While there are elements of the previous album that I preferred, there are also elements here that are an improvement. Between the two is a fascinating fusion which I hope to hear on Sumo Cyco’s third album, whenever that may appear. In the meantime, this is a solid entry into a fast-expanding catalogue that I hope will make people, not only dance, but think.
RATING: 8/10 – ★★★★★★★★☆☆
But you don’t have to take my word for it…Listen to the album for yourself, and make up your own mind. Then you can let me know what you think of Sumo Cyco’s Opus Mar.
So, have you ever heard of Sumo Cyco, or Skye Sweetnam? What’s your favourite songs of theirs? Did you pre-order Opus Mar? What do you think? Did it live up to your expectations? Have I said anything you disagree with? Tell me & everyone else who passes through here what you think in the comment below.
To Infinity and Beyond,