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Review : Skyharbor – Sunshine Dust

I was introduced to Indian / American prog metal act Skyhabor by picking up Blinding White Noise: Illusion and Chaos and I loved the blatent proggyness of that LP. I got Blinding White Noise in 2016. But that LP was released in 2012. So admittedly, I was behind the curve a little.

Fast forward to 2018, and in-between crowd funding a release, jumping labels, line up changes of an esteemed djent pedigree: Anup Sastry (Intervals, Monuments et al.), Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) plus re-recording the entire damn thing – Skyharbor present their third release, Sunshine Dust. Four years on from Guiding Lights, we find the band with clear focus. There is very little wasted motion on Sunshine Dust, with the compositions lean and highly melodic. The album strikes a successful balance between punchy and driven choruses, but still retains a sense of proggy wholeness thanks to the skilfully executed atmospheric segues.

Skyharbor mastermind Keshav Dhar is hyped to get this LP out to fans, stating that the band have “really dug in deep to explore and represent what [the band] truly feel is the Skyharbor sound”. Having listened to Guiding Lights, I am inclined to agree. An early version of the record was submitted to eOne, and feeling there was more to be had from the material (and as alluded to earlier) the group re-recorded the entire album with Australian producer, and former collaborator Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus).

First single ‘Dim’ and ‘Synthetic Hands’ are early highlights on the album. As well as great examples of Skyhabor’s core sound. The vocals are hooky and soaring and bed on a foundation of modern, clean and washy layers of guitar interspersed with passages of technical detail. The band toggle between wall-of-sound choruses, to clear and defined riffing effortlessly. Listening to the album, you fell the primary objective was the song – the overall arrangements; smooth and stylistic transitions; memorable melodies. Rather than being tech-for-tech sake and inserting a finger-breaking section and / or mind boggling groove just ‘coz.

 

 

It is evident throughout the entire release that the addition of permanent singer Eric Emery and drummer Aditya Ashok has clearly solidified the group, and enabled their focussed approach to songwriting. Krishna Jhaveri’s bass performance should be highlighted as a standout on the album. The bass is not only audible throughout, but takes a decent position in the overall mix – notable in tech metal, because bass too often suffers from over compression and being shouldered out of the mix by guitar work. Jhaveri’s work is emblematic of the rest of the band’s approach; there is no bass shredding or extreme acrobatics to be found. Jhaveri is tasteful and subtle in his playing – adding colour, texture and detail to passages and riffs, but not detracting from the overall feel or direction of the song.

Emotional variety, range and delivery are present in the vocals throughout, which would reasonably draw comparison with Spencer Sotelo of Periphery. For some hardened metalheads the poppy edge of ‘Ugly Heart’ could be off-putting, and garnish the same reaction as the formerly mentioned tech kings. However, the track’s bridge, tasty solo and closing vocals refrains, are undeniably powerful. Emery uses heavier and distorted vocals sparsely, for example on ‘Dissent’ and ‘Blind Side’. But when employed, these harsher vocals are noticeable, and effective, when heard against the predominantly higher-ranged clean vocals used throughout.

The pleasurable feature and maybe greatest strength of Sunshine Dust, is its overall pacing and sense of movement. Skyharbor have swapped out multi-part, long ass song structures (disclaimer: yet, highly enjoyable, and a feature of the genre I love dearly), for compositionally standalone pieces, albeit with sanguine transitions, which combined constitute a sumptuous and accessible whole. Sunshine Dust opens with the caresses of ‘Signal’ which leads into a quick  succession of out-the-gate bangers, to a heavier middle section, with ‘Temptress’ acting as a heavy and more experimental penultimate track, the finally the assured and triumphant album closer – from which the release takes its name. Arguably, Guiding Lights is a halfway house between these two opposing stylistic choices.

Top notch production, melodic sensibility, mature song writing and expert delivery – check. With their fixed line-up and current focus, tech OG Dhar proves that Skyharbor remain a top-tier outfit, and demonstrates that his band is not only on top of their game, but have plenty of fuel left in the tank. A prominent spot at Tech Fest 2019? Maybe? Less than four years for another release? Maybe?  Sunshine Dust is out 7 September via Entertainment eOne / Good Fight Music.

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