Album Review: HOWLING SYCAMORE Howling Sycamore
Some bands form and take awhile to work out their identity with their debut record, and possibly further albums, acting as the baby steps leading up to their inevitable maturation. Yet, there are rare formations in which the group instantly clicks and the personalities sync beautifully. San Francisco/Austin-based Howling Sycamore most definitely falls into the latter as their self-titled debut LP has a sense of purpose and direction right off the bat. Saying this should be a given though once glancing at the musicians involved.
Davide Tiso, a multi-instrumentalist known for his work in experimental metal act Ephel Duath, assembled Howling Sycamore alongside Watchtower/Dangerous Toys vocalist Jason McMaster and Necrophagist/Obscura drummer Hannes Grossmann. While not official members, this release sees featured work from saxophonist Bruce Lamont, who has been killing it with guest contributions on a variety of different albums in recent years. The album also features guitar work by Kevin Hufnagel from Gorguts and Fester of Burials. From this lineup alone, you can already imagine what kind of extreme, progressive insanity shall emerge.
Opener “Upended” lays out Howling Sycamore’s signature sound magnificently, coming off as a score to a demented, yet happy, nightmare. As oxymoronic as that is, the imagery invoked by the instrumentalists provides a haunting soundscape while the wild vocals provoke a range of emotions. Black metal drum beats meet with dizzying guitar leads and bits of saxophone licks, all as McMaster screams out reminiscent of The Wall-era Roger Waters' exasperated croons. The sinister mood established continues on in "Obstinate Pace." The band proves their understanding of dynamics in this relatively less intense composition. Although this song isn't as chaotic as the previous piece, the subdued moments allow for the esoteric and inspiring lyrical content to shine through.
As I continued down the path of this record, I realized the vast range of emotions packed within. From the manic lunacy on the proggy "Let Fall" to the raw gothic melancholy throughout "Chant of Stillness," the musical and emotional spectrum is a mile wide. "Descent to Light" harkens back to the brilliant intensity that was conjured on the opening song. I'm a firm believer that an album's closer must be a strong stand-out point in order to conclude the record properly. Upon examination, the last piece, "Dysphoria," has interesting instrumentation, however it is not as impactful as I'd hoped. Of course, this is a tad nit-picky, yet I simply wish the LP ended on a higher note rather than fading out. Lastly, on a completely unrelated note, I have got to say: there's something about these song names that I particularly love.
Howling Sycamore is one of those new projects that immediately struck gold. Labeling this simply as progressive metal is not doing this act justice. Their music conveys a far more experimental, emotional, and forward-thinking tone than the average prog metal band. This self-titled debut is truly a moving experience simply for each and every artist's contribution melding together into the cohesive chaos.