Howling Sycamore – Howling Sycamore

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/label: Prosthetic Records
Distributor/label URL: https://prostheticrecords.com
Released: 2018
Buy Album [URL]: https://howlingsycamore.bandcamp.com/
Band Website: https://www.facebook.com/howlingsycamore/

Band line-up:

Jason McMaster – Vocals
Davide Tiso – Guitar
Hannes Grossmann – Drums
(Special guests Bruce Lamont and Kevin Hufnagel)

Tracklisting:

1 – Upended
2 – Obstinate Pace
3 – Let Fall
4 – Intermezzo
5 – Midway
6 – Chant of Stillness
7 – Descent to Light
8 – Dysphoria

 

Howling Sycamore label themselves as a new extreme metal / progressive metal exploration. When I saw that Jason McMaster (WatchTower), Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath) and Hannes Grossmann (Necrophagist, Obscura) make up the regiment, my interest was perked; an eye-brow raised so to speak. Being a fan of all the member’s accreditations and especially the criminally overlooked Ephel Duath, I was already trying not to hit the ‘hype button’ before it graced my lobes.

We also can’t shy away from the likes of Grossman’s esteemed on-going drumming odyssey, which got everyone hot under the collar when Necrophagist’s Epitaph hit in 2004. It features some crazy polyrhythmic drumming escapades effortlessly striding into 240bpm level blasting insanity. All of this comes under one hat. It’s very much a Tiso lead vision, the orchestrator connecting all the members and guests over the year it took to put together.

From the moment ‘Upended’ starts, you’re dropped into a mid-paced double-kick groove with some soul-searching guitar work and descending bass runs, only to be smacked down by a sharp Grossman blast manoeuvre into McMaster’s distinctive prog infused vocal style. All of that is shortly followed by a full-on sax-freak-out by guest Bruce Lamont. (There’s some later resurgences of this). McMaster’s style here feels reminiscent of a Warrel Dane meets Dio vibe, which feels welcome, although those new to fusion projects like this may not expect to hear it land the way it does. McMaster is also not afraid to throw you a full set of blood curdling, yet controlled screams through-out.

As the album progresses, everything feels in place. There are no jarring concept tracks in-play, it’s distinctly metal in a progressive old-school mash. I appreciate the level of QC, it’s evident they took their time and intelligently placed all the guest contributions. ‘Descent to Light’ is probably my stand-out track, kicking off to a genuinely hair-raising start after an epically tight drum prefix. I haven’t talked much about the guitar work and I should have, it’s intense, yet delicate, doused in memorable metal hooks and mid Death-era solos. Ephel Duath fans will hear the progression for sure, especially from 2013’s ‘Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness’. In closing, this is not geared as an artsy progressive musical pissing contest. Thankfully, it’s much more straightforward and accessible, it meets Tiso’s blended progressive/death agenda admirably and is easily an enjoyable listen.

Review by Joel Wheeler
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