[16 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Canada’s Alanis Morissette isn’t the only one with an embarrassing teen pop past. Skye Sweetnam, another Canadian, was a teen pop artist who had a major record and publishing contract, performed in more than 25 countries and had the distinction of opening up for none other than Britney Spears, all before her 17th birthday. But Sweetnam has had an image makeover. She now answers to the moniker Sever, and she is the frontwoman for a decidedly non-teen pop, but a four-piece hard rock/metal act Sumo Cyco, based in Toronto. And the band is making waves in its home city, if not the rest of Canada. Sumo Cyco won Indie Week Canada in 2013 and was awarded “Best-Female Fronted” band at the 2012 Toronto Independent Music Awards. They’ve now unleashed their first record, Lost in Cyco City, but many of these tracks, in a rather savvy marketing move, have been previously issued online. The group is also making multi-part music videos, of which opening track “The Ugly” is only Chapter One in an ongoing series (see the media embed below).
Here’s what I can say about Sweetnam, er, Sever and Sumo Cyco. If there was a woman who was looking to take the crown of Canada’s reigning metal queen Lee Aaron away, she might be the one to do it. She has seductive and yet bracing pipes. And Lost in Cyco City, aside from a theatrical and cheesy intro to “The Ugly” is basically an album that is mostly killer, with little filler. No ‘80s style power ballads are to be found here. Each of the 11 tracks on the record are scorching, balls-to-the-wall rockers, even if some of the songs veer into metal pop territory, making Sumo Cyco little more than a beefed-up version of Avril Lavigne. However, considering that Lavigne married Chad Kroeger of Nickelback last year, maybe we should be expecting something eventually more hard hitting from Lavigne at some point, making Sever something of a trend setter. Still, Lost in Cyco City is an astonishingly good, fun time, and you might just get carried along with the raucous rock that this album brings.
Part of the fun is spotting the musical influences. “The Ugly”, once you get past that awful intro, has a vaguely White Zombie feel to it. Meanwhile, “Go Go Go” seems to borrow the drum lick and guitar riff from Rush’s “One Little Victory”. And “Fighter” is just a sussed-up, harder rocking version of a Lavigne song. That’s just the first three tracks. However, just about every song here will make you want to bang your head against a wall until you get a migraine. “Cry Murder”, with its chorus “Let’s start a riot”, is a fun and heavy song that, if this wasn’t a hard rock release, might have you drawing lines to the garage rock stylings of the Hives. “Like a Killer” pummels the listener into merciless submission. “Fuel My Fire” has a guitar lick that seems vaguely familiar, but what it resembles – Rush, again, perhaps? – is on the tip of my tongue. “We Ride” again brings the cheese content to the table with a vaguely Middle Eastern opening, before cranking the amps up to 12 in a confection of pure metal pop delight. “Brave” is perhaps the one cop to pop crossover commerciality as it isn’t quite as hard as the rest of the material, but it’s hardly a ballad – more of a song with a swinging beat. “Get Off” is another stab at pop metal more in the Finger 11 mold, and I suspect that, somewhere in the world, it might become a radio hit. And then the last two songs, “Crowd Control (Do What We Want)” and “My Name Is Rock ‘n’ Roll” end things ferociously.
By the time Sever breathes out a “thank you” at the very end of “My Name Is Rock ‘n’ Roll”, you might find yourself on your back and out of breath, knocked out by the sheer power of Lost in Cyco City. This is a no holds barred affair, one that basically marries hardcore shredding with more overtly pop material. Some may be taken aback by the commercial underpinning, but if you’re a fan of grindhouse metal with a pop sheen, you might wind up getting a lot of mileage out of Lost in Cyco City. You may scoff that this is an attempt for a former teen pop queen to maintain some shred of integrity, by shifting musical styles so deftly, but I would predict big things from Sumo Cyco. They seem to have found their own particular brand of mayhem, one with a certain edge or bite to it. If I were the likes of Britney Spears, I might be cowering in fear at the pure power that Sumo Cyco brings to the fore. If you’re looking for a mean, good ol’ fashioned time, you could do no wrong than checking Sumo Cyco out.