That title, coming from this band, is honestly terrifying. We’re still reeling from Howling Sycamore‘s debut release, a supergroup comprised of some of death metal’s best and making a weird type of avant-garde progressive metal, and here they stand before us with a promise of annihilation. Interestingly enough, Seven Pathways to Annihilation, while keeping many of the elements which made the debut release so effective, feels less oppressive and crushing, utilizing more atmospheric passages and an overall more varied structure. But this more spacious theme is like so many pitfalls at the curb of your path, preparing for you a void of introspection and self-annulment for you to fall into. They also give the deceptive impression that this album is more accessible, only to hold within them countless weird, unsettling, and technical passages.
Take “Second Sight” for example, the fourth track (and, presumably, the fourth pathway to annihilation). It opens with uncharacteristically “open” guitar chords and an overall slow tempo. The signature vocals still have their unique timbre but they’re also singing an easier mode here. By the time the bass enters, smooth and tempting, things seem calmer than we might remember them from the previous release. Only the drums, as if Grossman is unable to contain himself, hint at things to come. Ushered in by his cymbals, multiple vocal layers are introduced and the ominous nature of the track beings to unfold through the lyrics. The guitars now seem “creeping” at the edges of our listening rather than open and, as the vocals take flight, an odd guitar lead takes over as a more pronounced and thicker bass line takes hold.
The track culminates in the vocal layers trading words and moods, as if surrounding us, until finally exploding into a disjointed and unsettling guitar solo. It took us longer to get here this time, but Howling Sycamore are still hellbent on leading us into avant-garde and bizarre places. It’s just that this time, some of the heavier, more “busy” passages have been pared back from time to time, to make way for creepier, more nuanced atmosphere. This can also be heard on second track, “Departure”, where what would previously be a furiously fast passage turns into a more sweeping moment, expansive not only in vocals but also in the interesting interaction between guitars, drums, and bass. They might be playing a bit slower (though this is broken by an absolutely monstrous blast-beating section later in the track) but they’re also playing “deeper”, compositions bouncing off of each other in fascinating ways.
Honestly, this change only does wonders for the band. While the debut record was excellent, we wouldn’t necessarily want them to replicate it. After all, aren’t Howling Sycamore supposed to be about challenging us and presenting us with something new? Shying away from any prospect of a diminishing return, the supergroup seems adamant about catching us off our feet and they seem to have succeeded. Drawing on an even more grandiose atmosphere born, funnily enough, from restraint, Seven Pathways to Annihilation presents an ever more complex and subtle version of Howling Sycamore’s madness. Whether this makes it more or less accessible is the wrong question; the right question would be what can be found in this new, more ambient version of the band? To answer it, you’ll have to take a listen for yourself.
Seven Pathways to Annihilation drops June 21st via Prosthetic Records, and is available for pre-order on the band’s Bandcamp page.