SINAYA – Maze Of Madness

Despite being primarily thought of as a very male dominated universe, death metal has spawned some fantastic female-fronted acts over the years. Landmine Massacre – particularly during the Grace Perry era – are one of the finest and better known, but there have been a lot of underground acts truly flying the flag. Here’s another: Brazilian all-female melodic death band Sinaya.

The band’s earlier recordings (2013’s ‘Obscure Raids’ EP and 2015’s ‘Blinded By Terror’ single) showed off more than a fair amount of talent but were marred by low budgets and muddy production. Since then, they’ve had a change in line up, supported thrash legends Exodus and have become a much stronger and better band. Their 2018 album ‘Maze of Madness’ is a release that finally does their studio recordings justice, having the kind of budget and production job that allows some great riffs to breathe and not be smothered by a demo quality sound.

The opening of ‘Abyss To Death’ does a great job in building atmosphere, sounding a little like an early Slayer number, before the drums dictate a much faster pace. What soon emerges is the finest in melodic death metal, with a classic thrash undertone. Mylena Monaco’s gruff (but never entirely impenetrable) vocal sits atop some fantastic riffs, courtesy of a huge guitar sound shared between Mylena and lead guitarist Renata Petrelli. Combined, the voice and those riffs create something unshakable. Its quickly obvious that Sinaya’s greatest asset is their love for a mid-paced riff, the kind you’d find during Slayer’s slower workouts or the bulk of a classic Obituary album. With the sound very much driven by the dual guitar work, it shows a surprisingly melodic streak, and it’s that which is so often ‘Maze of Madness’s strongest asset. The twin guitar that kicks off ‘Always Pain’ again harks back to the 80s, but the track’s core is far less retro than first appears. Mylena, once more, steps forward with a mighty growl, but it’s the music that really inspires, since there are plenty of moments that are very reminiscent of Lamb of God, especially in the way the main riff shifts from thrash to a definite circular groove, an approach that really allows drummer Cynthia Tsai an opportunity to lay down some fantastic heavy toms. For fans of a massively meaty riff, this number could be a favourite – it’s definitely one of the album’s highlights.

‘Bath of Memories’ manages to fuse elements from those first two numbers, but introduces a more forthright bass sound – with the volume cranked, it’s more than possible to hear Bruna Melo attacking her four strings throughout – which definitely helps to drive the juggernaut of a riff that occasionally hints at the hardcore metal sound perfected by Machine Head. For the hardened death freaks, the centrepiece of this superb track descends into a speedy workout that’s much closer to a more purist death metal style. The drums shift from a heavy groove into pure pneumatics, and with a heavily bashed snare and a ride cymbal piercing through everything, it’s a great example of how Sinaya are just as adept at a more uncompromising style. ‘Buried by Terror’, meanwhile, quickly asserts itself with another riff that sounds like Machine Head covering Metallica and is impeccably approached, while Mylena growls and barks throughout. It’s perhaps the only time on the album her vocal seems just a little too intrusive, especially when it makes it that little bit harder to focus on some fine downtuned twin leads. However, with the presence of a howling lead guitar placed against a particularly rigid riff, there’s still more than enough of a classic thrash sound to give the track a great send off, especially with the simple use of stops within the hefty closing riff.

‘Crowd in Panic’ mixes a melodic death sound with more of a groove metal aesthetic to great effect, and given another Lamb of God-ish backdrop to work with, Mylena’s gruff and almost retching approach to the vocal is one of the albums best. Slowing down a touch more, a doom-ish plod is kept afloat by some great twin leads and the vocal drops accordingly, giving the album some of the most “traditional” death grunts. Revisiting the stops from the previous number and using them even more effectively to punctuate a riff, there’s a feeling this number could go on forever via a collection of fake endings, but that never diminishes the sheer power of the riff in hand. In fact, all things considered, this is easily the album’s most essential listen. Again, placing a slower riff inspired by ‘South of Heaven’ era Slayer against some heavy bass drums, ‘Deep In The Grave’ quickly settles into a mid-paced chug that’s the kind of thing Sinaya are capable of playing without too much effort. As a stand-alone listen, it’s got more than enough metallic appeal, but sequenced straight after the epic ‘Crowd In Panic’ it comes across as a little by-numbers – or at least that’s the case until the closing bars stoke up the usage of double drum pedals, while ‘Infernal Sight’ introduces one of the albums best riffs – a downtuned, dual guitar workout that takes an old Slayer blueprint and then gives it a deeper melodic death sound. The result is particularly enjoyable from the outset, but with a constantly shifting time signature dictated by precision drumming and another darker vocal performance from Mylena, it’s a track that seems to improve with each play. The featured solos are particularly understated and perhaps a touch too low in the overall mix, almost as if the band themselves have recognised that this track is all about a great riff…and it would be hard to argue, but that doesn’t stop this being one of the best examples of Sinaya’s art.

Closing the album, ‘Life Against Fate’ shifts the mood one last time, opening with an especially punchy riff that sounds like a metal band approaching something with more of a hardcore punk attitude, pushing forth the kind of power you’d find from a Walls of Jericho recording. Eventually, of course, they make the switch to something that’s very much of the classic thrash style. The riffs soon take on a much bigger chug, while some brief twin lead work pays homage to more of the band’s essential eighties influences. With more great bass drum work and a belated usage of the guitar “horse noise” for effect, there’s a lot going on here, but whatever their choice of riff and style, everything is incredibly taut, leading to an impressive number all round. Sinaya obviously understand the importance of sequencing a record…and this is an amazing final blast. If you weren’t entirely convinced forty minutes ago, they should have won you over by now.

Musically, ‘Maze of Madness’ features plenty of material that died in the wool thrash fans could – and should – love, but of course the harsher vocals are always there to remind the listener that Sinaya’s core interests often veer more towards a melodic death infused sound. That mightn’t suit everyone, but since these tunes so often invoke memories of hearing Slayer, Death and Obituary for the first time and also have elements influenced by Lamb of God and Machine Head scattered throughout, there’s always hope that this material will be enjoyed by all lovers of a great heavy riff. Championing death and thrash metal’s past while still managing to sound relevant and inspiring, this album is definitely recommended for lovers of metal at the heavier end of the scale.

May 2018