ROTW: Howling Sycamore!

Our Record Of The Week today (well, it comes out this Friday) is the self-titled debut from something called Howling Sycamore, on Prosthetic, and it's a situation where at first the both of us were like, woah, gotta check this out just 'cause the band's lineup is so... unexpected... and then, on top of that, it turned out to be really an amazing album.

Which maybe should be expected, 'cause it's an international project featuring Davide Tiso, the main guy from eccentric, jazzy Italian avant-black metallers Ephel Duath, teamed up with folks including saxophone player Bruce Lamont from Yakuza, German drummer Hannes Grossmann who used to be in Necrophagist and Obscura, and, most crucially to our ears, none other than JASON MCMASTER, best known to the masses (or at least MTV viewers back in the day) as the vocalist for Dangerous Toys... but his association with Texan tech-thrash pioneers Watchtower is probably what lead him to this gig. He's also in true metallers Ignitor, and appears to make his living fronting a host of classic rock/metal tribute acts.

Weird combo, eh? There's even a guest appearance from Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia). We won't call it a 'supergroup' exactly 'cause these folks aren't exactly household names, except in our households, maybe yours... Anyway, definitely got our attention and then, wow, they deliver – it's like a blackened Van Der Graaf Generator in parts, almost, with blast beats, truly non-sucky saxophone, and Jason McMaster's tour-de-force vocals, which range all over the place, versatile and melodic and let's say, thespian, definitely in command. He really makes this; his performance is maybe an argument that all 'extreme metal' would be better with real singing, especially if it's as intense and over the top as his. And also that all avant-rock could be so much more metal with the likes of McMaster on board.

Yeah, McMaster of course kills it with the studded-leather-armband shrieking, and that's an awesome component of this right there, but we were also impressed with all the unusual parts where he doesn't sound as metal, too. They could have made a pretty good ol' prog album minus the extreme metal elements, actually – tracks like "Chant Of Stillness," relying pretty much on just some interestingly melodic vocals and acoustic guitar, prove it.

Recommended weirdness! Especially if you like VDGG, John Zorn, black metal, Watchtower, and being surprised.

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