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Howling Sycamore - Seven Pathways To Annihilation

Howling Sycamore
Seven Pathways To Annihilation
by Max Elias at 12 August 2019, 11:02 PM

This is an exciting album to review. HOWLING SYCAMORE is yet another project to feature Hannes Grossmann, who despite being a drummer, is one of the main songwriting forces behind amazing Progressive Death Metal bands, like OBSCURA and ALKALOID (he also drummed for NECROPHAGIST, who were the gods of Technical Death Metal). His solo work is fantastic as well. All of this is to say that the bar is high with this album, rife with beauty, unconventional riffs, technical wizardry, the whole package that usually comes with the Hannes Grossman name.

“Mastering Fire” starts pretty atmospherically, with clean vocals entering immediately over soft clean guitar that quickly turns into distortion. The sparse, mood-setting arpeggiation is still dominant, even with drums pounding away. A small but significant lead precedes a shift in feel before the vocals return. Oh, and all of this is in the first 2 and a half minutes of the song; lots of intricacy to unpack going forward. Guitars stick mostly to arpeggio-heavy parts that create an air of beauty mixed with dissonance, punctuated by the distorted tone. Though there are lots of sections, the cohesion never breaks.

“Departure” is also defined by dissonant arpeggiation, although the drumming is a bit crazier and the vocals alternate between levels of harshness. It doesn’t sound easy to play, but this time it looks like Hannes Grossmann went for Death Metal on the progressive side of things rather than the technical. The song breaks away from the main form multiple time, but resolves expertly. The general dynamic of the album is interesting in that the drumming (virtuosic as expected) is classic extreme metal madness, but the rest of the instrumentation is, at least for Death Metal, fairly laid-back. For example, in “Initiation”, a great song filled with eerie, back-of-the-mix guitar passages that invoke a floating atmosphere. The drumming is really the only part of it that could be described as heavy.

“Second Sight” opens on evil-sounding arpeggios that sound like bells ringing. McMaster’s clean vocals make it tranquil rather than haunting. This is a well-made song, and the harmonies are impressive, but it is not a great song to listen to when tired (as I may or may not have discovered while writing this review). The highest intensity moment comes during the solo—which is the first of the album—a shreddy, Jazz-Metally whirlwind.

The fastest song on the album is “Sorceror”, the final track, which still doesn’t even come close to the audacity of other projects Grossmann has spearheaded. Not that speed is the most important thing in music, but it might throw off people who know Hannes from his work in OBSCURA or NECROPHAGIST. This is Progressive Death Metal, which comes in so many forms. The musicianship involved is astounding, and the writing is interesting. But it does feel at times as if this is an album comprised entirely of atmospheric interludes, with no big riff or conclusion tying it together.

Songwriting: 8
Originality: 10
Memorability: 8
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Mastering Fire
2. Departure
3. Initiation
4. Second Sight
5. Raw Bones
6. Tempest’s Chant
7. Sorcerer
Lineup:
Jason McMaster - Vocals
Davide Tiso - Guitar / Bass
Hannes Grossmann - Drums
Bruce Lamont - Baritone Saxophone
Kevin Hufnagel – Lead Guitars
Record Label: Prosthetic Records
     


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