Thursday, May 10, 2012

Skyharbor - Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos (2012)

The future of Indian metal is here. Evolving from a bedroom studio project into a full fledged ethereal tidal wave, Skyharbor is fast becoming the talk of progressive metal community. Guitarist Keshav Dhar has garnered some serious attention from musicians the world over, including former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman and former Tesseract vocalist Dan Tompkins, who both lend a hand on the album the independent metal scene in India is riding on. With a mix of sounds both heavy and distinct, "Blinding White Nose: Illusion & Chaos" is the first step from underground to headliners.

The heavy riffs that open the first track of the "Illusion" movement, titled "Dots," are not a mistake. Pounding drum beats thump through your speakers as Dan Tompkins, whose voice graces all seven pieces of this arc, lets his voice simply rest atop the distortion. In his airy segments, the guitars are shockingly aggressive, but that is nothing to the machine gun assault that comes just before the bridge. Lightning fast guitars riffs and double bass pedaling lock together. The light electronic effects that guide you from bridge to outro are welcomed, as are the sparing screams from Tompkins. The seamless flow into "Order 66" ties the two together, but they are distinctly different. The tempo has changed slightly, from blazing to merely simmering, but there is an added dose of melody to be had here, both in the guitars and vocals. Dhar is a master craftsman, something that comes through in his playing, but even more in his writing. Taking in the riffs that control the later stages of this track, there is a depth of sound to be had that is difficult to achieve and maintain.

Tompkins vocals are strong throughout, but particularly on "Catharsis," where his voice provides an atmospheric element to the song. he show great range, from the more coarse style to the high, clean notes. The drumming is incredibly tight, consistently moving a mile a minute, without missing a beat. The downside to such a powerful percussion performance, is the way it tends to hide the lower register guitars and bass, as it does here. The movement back and forth from quiet to booming seems to take a seven minute track and make it feel like four. Fading into "Night," a short, calming affair, Tompkins shows his softer side amidst an electronic beat and clean guitars. The build up that follows shows off some more dynamic bass work, perhaps for the first time on the album, then cuts out before leading ahead into "Aurora." It would be fair to say that this is the most straight forward track on the album, sticking to a more traditional structure. This is far from a bad thing, as the band execute with the utmost care and intelligence. The bass groove is enough to get your head nodding, and the mellow vocal line will have you leaning back in your seat to take it all in. One last blast of power takes you home.

A point that is often forgotten is the ability of an album to flow, not only from track to track, but as a whole set. As you run directly into "Celestial" you may become very aware of the path you have taken to this point, with each song seeming like an extension of the song before it. Tompkins provides the common thread in everything to this point, with his clean and gritty vocals often taking the spotlight, as they do in the choruses here. But for every winding riff that Dhar lays down, there is a corresponding and equally impressive roll or fill from Anup Sastry. A bluesy guitar solo occupies the portion normally reserved for breakdowns, adding another beautiful twist. As the "Illusion" segment of the album ends, culminating in the track "Maeva," you get exactly what the arc dictates. A fitting mix of aggression and melody, Tompkins carves out a flowing vocal line that can't be forgotten, easily. Falling somewhere between Chino Moreno of the Deftones and 30 Seconds To Mars frontman (and actor extraordinaire) Jared Leto, he seems to possess equal parts of tone and tenacity. The ethereal haze that builds around you may seem odd, given the previous six tracks knack for sledgehammer force.

Moving into the "Chaos" passages, Tompkins hands the baton off to Sunneith Revankar, who adds a much more industrial edge to the sound of "Trayus." Living up to the name, it is pure chaos in the percussion world, with drums flying at you from all directions at all volumes and tones. This is the kind of track that places the album squarely in that ever growing djent subdivision, with heavy vocals and heavier blast beats occupying every second. And the eruption of "Aphasia" is the proverbial hands around your throat, choking the breath from you with every chugging riff. if you were sold on the heavier side of their musicianship, this would be the track to sway you. Rolling double kicks and nonstop, dense guitar work will surely incite a riot in your living room. The album closes on the track "Insurrection," one that begins calmly before crushing you underneath wave after wave of brutality. It is a completely unrestrained effort, choosing to go with unbridled aggression over the more distinct songwriting they exhibited earlier. This is not a track of subtleties, but one of in-your-face destruction.

Coming from a country that isn't necessarily known for their metal can easily put extra pressure on you to succeed. Nothing is ever a certainty, and nothing is ever guaranteed. But what Skyharbor have done here is given themselves the best chance to not only be successful, but to stay true to what they know. There is no compromise, no consolation. This is every bit the album that Dhar and company wanted. With help from Tompkins, Revankar and Friedman, "Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos" might open the eyes of the world to the rumbling from India. They are on the map now. Who is next?


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