It's always pleasant to hear a band combine uncommon influences or simply rearrange existing genres into something new. Born from unused material for another project and a desire to write extreme progressive metal and furnish it with 80s heavy metal vocals, Howling Sycamore's self-titled debut album does exactly that. The supergroup surrounding Davide Tiso of Ephel Duath delivers a striking first effort to kick off the new year.
Featuring Jason McMaster of WatchTower and Dangerous Toys on the mic and Hannes Grossmann of Obscura and Necrophagist behind the kit, the band is a powerhouse of creative energy and outstanding musicianship.
Opening with Upended the band comes out with one of their most intense songs right off the bat. Following an intro of wailing guitars the band shifts to blastbeats and tremolo riffing as McMaster delivers from the higher reaches of his register. On this track, the vocals alternate with frantic saxophone sections provided by Bruce Lamont of Yakuza and Brain Tentacles among others. As an instrument with its own voice Lamont's saxophone provides a finishing touch to the song that adds a sense of craziness that complements McMaster's vocals on the track. Lamont joins the band again on the second track, Obstinate Pace, this time supplying a gentler, sadly howling segment that serves as a prelude to the song's passionate climax.
Maintaining their tempo, Howling Sycamore flesh out the mid section of the album with Intermezzo, an ambient guitar piece, and Chant of Stillness, an introspective acoustic guitar excursion.
Following that, the band comes out with the highlight track of this album, Descent to Light. Riding Grossmann's versatile snare play and rumbling double bass, the ominous tremolo guitars enforce the feeling of urgency that is driven home by McMaster's soulful vocals. Playing at the height of their ability the band puts on a riveting performance as McMaster exhausts his repertoire telling a story of death and rebirth.
Closing track Dyshporia draws the curtains on Howling Sycamore's debut with its pounding marching drums and layered guitars that slowly fade into the distance.
Tiso has really found the perfect company to join him for this project and the band's organic interplay belies the fact that this is only their first album. Playing to the virtues of their craft, Howling Sycamore boasts incredible competence and imaginative musicianship that culminates in an album that is not only emotionally-charged and intense but also just insanely fun to listen to. Grossmann's drumming is convincingly versatile and Tiso displays a very fine hand in weaving meaningful contrasts between the downtuned guitar leads and additional atmospheric layers as Jason McMaster delivers the performance of his career with a wonderfully dynamic voice that unites the grandeur of 80s heavy metal and an acute sense for memorable vocal moments.
Last but not least, the prodcution job done by Scott Evans (Ghoul, Yowie) provides a sleek and polished instrumental backdrop that contrasts the raspier vocal sound and Brad Boatright's (Wormed, Xibalba, Old Man Gloom) mastering supplies the band with an appropriately spacious mix. In addition to the aforementioned Bruce Lamont the guest roster also features additional guitars by Kevin Hufnagel of Gorguts and Dysrhythmia.
Howling Sycamore come out with a fantastic debut album that reimagines the well-established as something refreshingly unique and highly enjoyable. The music absolutely thrives on the exquisite musicianship behind it and even this early into the year this album makes a convincing claim for a spot in my top list for 2018.