Whilst Guiding Lights did not exactly blow us away as it might have, there is nothing but praise and recommendations which can be offered over the new album from progressive metallers Skyharbor. The successor to the band’s acclaimed 2012 debut album Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, the new ten track exploration reaps all the essences which made its predecessor standout and explores even richer and more adventurous landscapes of technical and imaginative invention aligned to impassioned creativity. Taken individually, the tracks within Guiding Lights tempt, enthral, and impress without exception but as a whole for whatever reason, the album becomes one thrilling immersive journey but which loses the definition between the different exploits, tracks often blending in without very intensive attention. It is a personal issue we came up against and will not apply to all, and to be fair still could not stop the album standing out as a remarkable and seriously appetising next step in the striking evolution of the band.
Formed initially as a studio project by songwriter/guitarist Keshav Dhar, Skyharbor, the India based band has grown to become one of the rigorously captivating propositions in world progressive metal, in the studio and as the live touring band it evolved into. Starting its line-up growth around 2011 with the linking up of drummer Anup Sastry (Jeff Loomis, Intervals) and Another Vertigo Rush bassist Nikhil Rufus Raj, the band soon emerged as a potent and persistently intriguing presence, its first shows seeing Skyharbor as an instrumental trio. Signing with Basick Records led to the release of the double-disc album Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, the album seeing Sunneith Revankar (Bhayanak Maut) the vocalist on one disc and Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT), who had previously contacted Dhar with the suggestion of collaborating, on the other. Soon after confirming Tomkins as permanent vocalist, the band with second guitarist Devesh Dayal joining the line-up found themselves sharing stages with the likes of Lamb of God, Bass Monuments, and TesseracT as well as going on to play numerous festivals up to the latter part of last year when the band took time out to write and create Guiding Lights. With Goddess Gagged bassist Krishna Jhaveri replacing the departing Raj, the crowd-funded new album also released via Basick, has stepped forward as a dramatic and riveting next step in the band’s ascent.
Opening track Allure instantly transfixes; melodies and sonic enterprise vibrantly rippling across the song’s fluid canvas like warm summer rain on a clear stretch of water. Almost as swiftly though there is an intensity of passion and rhythmic incitement which with an agitated beckoning, streaks across the immersive embrace of the track. It is a masterful lure of a song, the outstanding vocals of Tompkins, as across the whole album, smooth and clean with engrossing expression to their narrative. Every aspect of the track and band impresses it is fair to say, the dark toned shadows of bass excelling in the clarity given and guitars bewitching whether laying down elegant designs or brewing up a more tempestuous persuasion.
The impressive start is emulated by the following Evolution, the track a rawer fiery proposition than the opener. The imposing beats of Sastry which commanded attention in the first song take an even more grievous pose in their swings here, though they are unafraid to temper the attack in the more temperate passages of the song. Though not a violent storm, the track still blusters from its rugged start with rigorously heavy scything riffery before finding a mellow and reflective emotive calm to explore, not quite the eye of the tempest but a temporary peace in a gripping maelstrom.
Both Idle Minds and Miracle keep ears and thoughts firmly engaged, the first taking on a poppier breath with its contagion without drifting from the raw emotion of its provocative exploration and a sonic endeavour where the throaty predation of the bass and sensuous melodies from guitars align for another intriguing captivation. The second of the two tracks soars through a celestial atmosphere, vocal and resourceful invention from guitars a radiant and acidic beauty which flares perfectly across the more vigorous traits of the song. As across the release, both are as excitingly unpredictable as they are skilfully sculpted and a potent continuation of the rich creative parade already unveiled.
Through the mesmeric and dramatically flavoursome scenery of Halogen and the more tenaciously challenging adventure of New Devil, the album whips up further greed in the appetite; the second of the two with its provocative and ferocious energy an irresistible incitement and with its intrigue drenched ingenuity, another peak to the album. Both leave thoughts and emotions bound in their creative emprises as does the Porcupine Tree like elegance and resonance of Patience which is subsequently followed by the long mystical temptation of the album’s title track. From its haunting opening ambience, the track brews up into a stormy flight merging rhythmic and emotional turbulence with thought encroaching melodies and vocal passion. As with so many of the tracks, once departed the song is a slim memory but in its hug the track steals ears and thought from the outside world with ease.
Guiding Lights is completed by firstly the excellent seduction of Kaikoma, a song exploring electronic and sonic temptations within an infectious and lingering progressive immersion of the senses. It is a thrilling investigation, one of the major pinnacles of the album which sets up the expansive realm of the finale. The Constant is an undulating terrain of thick and subtle structures, sublime and concussive textures, and gripping creative drama. It is a powerful and thrilling encounter which epitomises the album in that it is absorbingly and bracingly enjoyable as company and inspiration but whether it is its length or there being so much going on, it loses attention at points within its impressive landscape.
With every member of the band mouth-wateringly exploring their stunning individual technical and creative depths, the bottom-line is that Skyharbor has not only created another exceptional proposition to bask in, but one pushing them to the forefront of progressive metal. Guiding Lights is an outstanding journey which challenges for all the right reasons and though for us it works better taken as individual trips in its extensive emprise, it is nothing to complain about and only something to enjoy.
Guiding Lights is available now digitally and on CD via Basick Records @ http://music.basickrecords.com/album/guiding-lights and http://store.basickrecords.com/home/products/guiding-lights-cd/
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