Howling Sycamore – Seven Pathways to Annihilation (Prosthetic Records)

Wednesday, 26th June 2019
Rating: 9/10

An assembly of high caliber metal musicians of diverse genres, Howling Sycamore delivers intriguing progressive metal in relatively quick fashion since their 2016 inception. Their self-titled debut album appeared in early 2018 – and we have the follow-up in Seven Pathways to Annihilation to expand upon the parameters set forth. Davide Tiso handles the guitars/bass, best known for his work in Gospel of the Witches with Karyn Crisis – Hannes Grossmann of Hate Eternal, Alkaloid, and so many other past and present acts in the extreme realm mans the drums, while ex-Watchtower vocalist Jason McMaster rounds out the trio. As one would expect, these seven songs are mind-expansive, multi-layered constructs, designed for intense appreciation while deep dive discoveries assuredly take place through successive playbacks.

Hannes’ ability to go from sinister blast beats and seamless transitions into arenas more straightforward allows Davide to send out dark, ambient riff building measures – adding clean textures for additional aural scenery. Check out the push and pull darkness to light edges within “Departure”, Hannes’ propelling the circular progressive nature, then dropping out as the lower ‘howling’ vocals capture your attention. Impending doom with tribal drum accompaniment for the 8:04 “Initiation” again succumbs to electric, frenzied lead guitar play that’s almost jazzy against the thunderous blasting, opening Jason’s register for mid-range, almost gothic textures while his natural screams and falsetto angles conjure the mastery of Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio. Considering the 52 minutes of musical information to digest, it’s not exhausting but understandable due to the ideas, level of intensity, and dynamics on display. Jason McMaster has a tougher task of fitting melodies and words around some challenging riffs and time signature manipulation – yet he succeeds in spade, recalling early Confessor on “Mastering Fire” and the magnificently convulsive “Tempest’s Chant”. Once again the use of saxophone from Bruce Lamont on the eleven-minute plus closer “Sorcerer” against the extreme blasting and frantic electric activities rears back to Pan.Thy.Monium avant-garde days, another stunning arrangement that ebbs and flows from tranquil passages to devastating heaviness.

Hopefully Howling Sycamore can gain enough acceptance that the possibility of festival dates or small tours could be in the cards – as this is material meant to be explored and absorbed live as well as in the studio. Seven Pathways to Annihilation keeps progressive metal on a forward-thinking, far reaching arc to satisfaction.

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