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Review : Skyharbor – Blinding White Noise :Illusion and Chaos

Skyharbor is probably like the new textbook which is introduced in the ‘music fraternity’ – so pertaining to the analogy, it also will be at the receiving end of both accolades and rants. Nonetheless , the album which is hyped from such a long time needs to have a lot to sustain (marketwise) and amaze (music wise) , considering the amazing releases we had in the first quarter of 2012.

Since the inception of Keshav Dhar’s (writer,producer ,head honcho of Skyharbor) solo project Hydrodjent , a lot of metalheads in the indian scene were exposed to Djent/experimental/heavily odd-timed music. This happening more on general terms, international acts who were far ahead in their game were quickly absorbed by the indian fans and thus relative comparison resulted in discussions/rants regarding Hydrodjent’s music as well as future.But in the four years which Keshav took as a musician and producer to craft his dream into a fully blossomed project as well as a total band (original was with programmed drums etc), his unperturbed determination becomes now evident after you hear the entire album.

Coming to the album,it is just impossible to do two things as a listener – find Keshav’s influences and categorize the album into a genre/sub-genre . Prog-metal can be the closest it can get.The album is primarily divided into two aspects – ‘Illusion’ and ‘Chaos’ which are like Yin-Yang in the album, but musically. The thunderously layered guitar work in the songs coming under the ‘Chaos’ shelter is like the exact opposite of the soothing distant melo-chugging of the songs spanning the ‘Illusion’ shelter.Since the dawn of musicians making ‘Concept’ albums, bands like Eluveitie(New wave of folk metal) , Vildjharta(Djent/experimental) or even Skyharbor , the musical wow-ness has exponentially   rocketed . But not all nail it the way Skyharbor has done it, the songs flow like seasons of india, turbulent and soothing alternatively. The musical genius shows when Keshav does this ‘weather-change’ effectively in each of the ‘illusion’ and ‘chaos’ tracks.The title track ‘Dots’ has the most peppy intro riffs iv heard in recent times. Sounding unique is one aspect but creating a distinct sound right from the first note is no cakewalk.My personal pick off the entire album is ‘Aphasia’ – the track is a maddening adventure with soothing  clean layers perfectly moulded.  Sunneith Revankar(Sunny) of ‘Bhayank Maut’ (India) features as the growling vocals on the album – by far the best growls from the Indian Subcontinent ,he shook my ground with his clean sections on ‘Aphasia’ . The intensity which is created because of the vocal layering is just too overwhelming. As for the tracks featuring Dan Tompkins (ex- Tesseract,Absent Hearts) , the less said (more heard) the better.First off he has completely chucked ‘Autotune’ on all the tracks which add a raw edge to his highs and bring out a very unique listening experience. Most of the fans are loving this approach and tracks which have ridiculous vocal variations like ‘Catharsis’ and ‘Celestial’ sound mind numbingly smooth yet impossible to replicate. Out of the ‘illusion’ shelter – ‘Catharsis’ and ‘Maeva’ stand out as unique pieces both for their progression and chug-work.

Speaking about the guest-guitars, Marty Friedman (Ex-megadeth) and Vishal J Singh (Amogh Symphony,India) deliver the required punch to their respective tracks.Friedman’s solos quite honestly feel dated but Keshav’s production makes them sound amazing and has placed them at places which truly bring out the best in tracks. Vishal is a well-known virtuoso in india and his contribution plays an importantly role if you view the album from a producers perspective. Anup Sastry , the prodigy of a drummer did a fantastic job as the bands first ‘real’ drummer (since the original drums were programmed) and set the stage on fire at the NH7 Weekender gig Skyharbor played for the first time as a complete band. Moreover the machine-gun double bass patterns or the silent high hat plays, Anup nails every task Keshav set in the programmed drums with ease and finesse.

Speaking of production value – no 0ne in the indian production scene ,and i mean no one, makes guitars sound ‘warm and delicious’ at the same time. Keshav’s prowess as a producer outshines his musical genuius to be honest. The ambient tones of ‘Celestial’ and ‘Aurora’ are work of art.Skyharbor’s album is undoubtedly the most production-wise outstanding album . The only indian band which matches this is Providence and that too because their album is mixed/mastered by Keshav himself.The album art is equally intriguing . With an instragram churned picture of a calm ,serene ocean – the cover art with the name is enough to give you a calming feeling when you see the CD or hear the album, although the calm before the ‘CHAOS’ is also my own interpretation of the album art.Keshav Dhar = Skyharbor is a wrong equation since the ideas need concrete and fitting pillars which are provided by all the supporting artists. The mastermind undoubtedly is Keshav.

The album is captioned by Basick Records (Record Label of Skyharbor) as ‘India’s brightest hope’ and is quite apt to a certain degree. Keshav’s efforts are appreciated worldwide and he deserves every bit of it but to any label reading this review i strongly urge you’ll to step inside and hear the indian bands which infuse a lot of elements catering to variety of emotions and new musical ‘needs’.If you are an indian listening to this album- right from the oceanic artwork to the guitar work – every moment will make you realize how strangely the album relates to our roots in some way or the other whereas for a global listener , its a treat catering to his (almost) every expectation of how a Skyharbor album should sound like.

Prog-metal fan or not, the ambience and warmth from one end and relentless surge of adrenaline from the other converge perfectly and will make you hear this album now and 20 years later with the same zeal – timeless in every sense.

Rating 9/10

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Chimp Spanner : All Roads Lead Here EP (2012)

Chimp Spanner never lets you down – be it the musically diverse and rebellious ‘At The Dream’s Edge ‘ or the latest offering ‘All Roads Lead Here’. As a listener, i always wanted and imagined music breaking the barriers of genre – how bands would one day come up with music that is just impossible to classify into a particular genre. Something that music lovers could just absorb , and find something new to savor with every listen,relate to their own taste.

With bands like Animals As Leaders and Chimp Spanner making music which isn’t just musically advanced and brilliant , but also spans an array of sounds and musical elements.Paul Ortiz a.k.a Chimp Spanner does exactly this with the latest release.While recent bands who are cashing on the ‘Djent’ scene go haywire with the ‘low tuned’ guitar sound – Chimp Spanner sticks to standard tuning , incorporates ‘Djent’ and yet does full justice to other elements which are used in the songs , all at ease.In terms of production value – its priceless.

The album starts off with ‘Dark Age Of Technology’ which travels to your ear from a distance (Literally!) and comprises of Paul’s guitar wizardy backed by some amazing bass grooves. To be honest the first track sounded like an Animals As Leaders track and got me thinking of how the rest of the EP would sound like .But to my surprise , it proved to be amazing.’Engrams’ is an relaxing interlude that follows and builds up for the ‘Mobius series( Parts I, II and III).Mobius – which mathematically means a 3D rectangular strip which starts from one point and ends at the same point.

Why the need for the above statement? The sheer brilliance of the 3 track series lies in the fact that Paul creates a musical ‘Mobius’. The series is aptly ( and intelligently) titled ‘Mobius’ – where Mobius Pt I builds up the tempo with a constant and looped shred-fest. Mobius Pt II is where the same sound builds up into a beast and has some really insane time-signature swings.The track culminates into a mellow ambient sound and the Mobius Pt III combines best of both. Notable is how Paul manages to keep the riffs looped in the same tempo and yet travels through each track ,varying the ambience and heaviness effortlessly.I would go far by saying this but musically it does rival Tesseract’s ‘Concealing Fate’ series.Paul leaves the best for the last – the closing track ‘Cloud City’ is by far the most ‘musically delicious’ track my ears have bit on. The tones ,the riffs the song structure is worth million praises. It is a cocktail of jazzy atmospherics and Paul’s unique style.
Though it is an EP , ‘All Roads Lead Here’ does have the presence of a full length record. It encompasses such variety in so little time which is also something not every artist/band can do.

For the fans of Chimp Spanner – this is an album which takes you into a completely different mystical and orgasmic world and does not sound anything like Chimp’s prior works.
For the new ‘Chimps’ – finding bands from a similar genre and then listening to each is mostly the strategy all of us follow ,but if you wish to hear something that is practically ‘beyond genre’ and fits every mood of yours into one tight album effortlessly, then – ‘All Roads Lead Here’.

Rating – 8.5/10

Interview : Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner)

The English Djentleman!
Paul Antonio Ortiz or the brain behind the popular and critically acclaimed solo musical project – Chimp Spanner – is a guitar virtuoso from Colchester ,UK .
Paul rose to fame with his self-produced album Imperium Vorago (2004) and At The Dream’s Edge (2009) which inspired guitarists and musicians all over the globe . With his unique ‘Djent’ guitar tone and brilliantly progressive song-writing , Paul  isn’t just a musician who stands out in the crowd but also  fuses elements of electronica with metal to create songs which are not just musically gorgeous but also appealing to metalheads and non-metalheads alike.
He is currently signed with Basick records and will soon be releasing his Ep – All Roads Lead Here (2012).
Lets have a chat!

Hey Paul! How is the worlds most musically talented ‘chimp’ doing?
Haha not bad thanks! I got back late last night from a long weekend in Moscow, so I’m kind of tired and kind of sick from the cold. But I’ve a head full of ideas and a bit of time to get them realised now, so I’m feeling good.

You just returned from your Russian Tour – how was the entire experience? 
-Well it was just one show, although we also just completed a full European tour with Cynic as well. In both cases it was great to really experience the world outside of our tiny little island! Moscow in particular just felt so different to the UK. It might’ve been the -17 degree weather, or the abundance of massive woolly hats. But yeah it was a really memorable trip, and now I just wonder…how far from home will we be next time?

You hail from UK which has given us musical geniuses – how did your culture/country influence your music making?
– Well most of my early musical influence came from my parents; my mum is English and my dad is American. So certainly when I was growing up I was raised more on Latin music, jazz, funk, soul, etc. than any of the louder, more raucous stuff coming out of England at the time. My mum did introduce me to a lot of classical music, though. So I think that’s where my sense of drama comes from. But really the only thing that’s English about me is my reserve and my love of tea!

You were part of the Monuments line-up for sometime – how was that experience ? any anecdotes you would like to share?
– It was cool! A great way to cut my teeth on stage too, because there were no expectations of me reproducing MY music. I could just have a lot more fun with it. We were crammed in a van for 20 days or so so the whole thing was just a crazy surreal experience. We had a lot of fun though – I broke myself a fair few times haha.

You have self produced both your albums which got critical as well as popular acclaim – Given a choice between being a Producer and a Musician, what would you chose and why?
– I don’t really look at them as two separate things. I mix/produce while I write, so I couldn’t really choose one over the other. I know – that’s kind of a cheat answer 😉

Your fans call it ‘Djent’ critics call it ‘Progressive Metal’ – how would you define your playing style?
-It’s Progressive Djent haha. No I don’t really know what it is. I’m not sure at what point something starts or stops being progressive. Is it the marriage of guitars and keyboards? Pop music has that. Is it odd time signatures? I guess my goal when I started Chimp Spanner was to just write music; music that just so happened to have some of the textures and timbres associated with metal, but that people could enjoy whether or not they liked heavy music.

Which bands/artists  have been a huge influence on you and your music?
– I think, like most people in this scene, Meshuggah really changed my world (musically). It’s like all the restrictions and limitations I imposed on myself prior to hearing them were lifted, and now anything goes! I love the production of Devin Townsend also, so that’s been a big influence on me. When I was in high school I was listening to a lot of Deftones, and thinking back on it they were the first band that really introduced me to dark, moody electronic ambience in metal music. Plus the countless musicians I grew up listening to…just google “70’s fusion guitarists” and that’ll do ya!

Composing for your favourite game is every musicians dream – any tips/tricks for the musicians looking forward to this venture?
– Ahh now this is a slight misconception – I would LOVE to write for games, but it hasn’t happened yet. I have done the odd piece of music for various jobs but nothing really major yet. So if anyone needs tips/tricks, it’s me! It’s my ultimate goal though, and one I would like to put more focus on this year.

If not a musician what would you have been?why?
– I think I would’ve ended up doing something creative. I love drawing, designing, making things in 3D, writing. So there are a few careers I could’ve pursued if not music. And who knows, I still might when I’m older!

Finally, a message to all your fans and budding musicians? 
– To my fans, just a massive THANK YOU! In the last year or so I’ve done way more than I ever thought I could, both as a musician and as a person, and I owe so much of it to everyone who has supported me and my music. To budding musicians…be patient, and enjoy some of the best times in your career when it’s just you, your ideas, and your instrument. Whatever happens will happen :]

Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/paulortiz12
Band Page –  http://www.facebook.com/chimpspanner

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