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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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Animals As Leaders : Weightless

Animals as leaders (AAL) take instrumentalism to another level. The amount of emotions and genre versatility the band pours into their albums is unmatched.

Their first release which was produced by Misha ‘Bulb’ Mansoor of Periphery was less of a band effort and more of showcasing Tosin Abasi’s (Lead ‘8 string’ guitarist) guitar skills. It also had programmed drums which made the album worth relishing but leaves a bit of a want to hear something with the real thump .

Their second offering called ‘Weightless’ was more of a test than a release. It tested the sound and feel of the band with a REAL drummer. It tested the production value since their prior work lacked heavily on production terms. It also tested on how AAL sounded as a band together and not just Tosin showing off his skills.Amazingly, AAL passed with flying colors.

Right from the first track AAL takes you on a journey which is ‘weightless’ in true sense. You do not have the confines of a genre or theme or even time-signatures (sick swings between tracks). Tosin not only brings out the best in him but also merges successfully with the band and becomes one when it comes to creating ambient drum-riff combos or just tapping when the drummer takes charge.

The album starts with ‘An Infinite Regression’ which is one of the ‘Best First’ tracks I’ve heard since a long time. Tosin doesn’t fill in solos just to please – he fills in emotions which turn out to riffs. The solo in this song makes you realize what Tosin is trying to convey without even the need of words.
‘Somnarium’ is one such gem – classical songwriting layered with modern groove , the song is a roller coaster of crackling riffs one after the other.
‘Isolated Incidents’ which was released as a single and the finest track in the record in terms of grip,guitar work,songwriting and song structuring. The guitar virtuoso baffles you with a single riff which loops itself after almost 20 seconds in the song.
‘Do No Go Gently’ has a trippy feel to its whole structuring and showcases probably the best rudiments by the drummer in the whole track.
The tracks transition as if there is a storyline told musically. Ex – the track ‘To Lead you to an overwhelming question’ is a mad track with sick time signatures and suits the title and then sinks into a dark ,broody and ambient ‘Weightless’ in a way that is unreal even to seasoned ears.
The culminating moments of the track ‘Weightless’ has one of the best riffs/solos iv heard in recent times – it twists you from the inside and spills out Tosin’s magic and your admiration at the same time.

All said and done, AAL is not a band for listeners who wish to tap their feet 20 seconds in the song ,neither it is for people who are looking for growls which take you beyond brutality  .It takes its time and beautifully lets you grow into it ,never to come out.The band is a boon for people looking forward to hear something musically baffling and at the same time de-stressing the minds which get torn and tattered in todays fast paced world.Put this in your iPod/phone/music player and go on a  long journey – you will have two journeys in one – one of your own and a musical one by AAL

Rating – 9/10

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

Friend For A Foe – Source Of Isolation (2011)

I discovered this band while browsing through the many children-bands who Meshuggah fathered. Keeping a mindset that this would be yet another band trying to get itself to “forcefully lower the tone” and chug-chug djent-djent.
Within the first few minutes of the album I was amazed at the sheer grip of this band. Though the production seems a little on the downside the band manages to rip your brain at certain places.
Most bands,new or mature, always struggle to find “that sound” but If this band is going to stick to THIS sound its definitely going to go places.
Being the debut LP – it is a very good effort.
The songwriting is similar to Textures which has alternating growls and gorgeous clean patches but thing that made me sit up and give it a listen was the guitarwork.
Superb riffs which scale extreme speed and drop down to 2-3 instant pedel-shifting change of tones.
Electronic sounds which lace the album are very much a good thing because no matter what people call them (fake sounds etc) they always add a feel and groove to the whole arrangement.
Songs like ‘Formulaic Transition’ which is a instrumental number have the most smooth yet tight transitions between the various moods the song has to offer.
The tracks are nicely placed between thunderous ‘Idle Hands’ and ‘Vultaggio’ followed by the instantly catchy ‘Formulaic Transition’ ,closing the album with ‘Niacin’ and ‘Fallout’
Artwork – Very very unique and sends out a much deeper message than the obvious ‘Friend for a foe’ – showing a drowining hand which pleads for help.
With the range of bands touching the Djent/Prog-djent genre its difficult even on the bands to give something unique.
FFAF have done it pretty well with choruses which last long enough to tingle you and breakdowns short enough to leave you hungry for more.

Rating – 8/10

Keshav Dhar – India’s First Djentleman !

Keshav Dhar probably also knows how to MAKE an instrument by now.He does everything that is ever related to conceptualizing and materializing music.
He plays the guitar,produces music and also has his solo project – Hydrojent.
Probably India’s first band to have Maximum Djent Twang!

Keshav Dhar got the fame (much deserved) when he released two of the most progressive, ambient and layered tracks iv heard in recent times. Best part being- from an indian artist!
Hold your breath when i say – vocals – Dan Tompkins ( ex- TesseracT) and guitars Marty Friedman -( ex Megadeth) !The lineup for these two tracks ,with the featuring artists , itself made me anxious .

And what i head was more than music! Keshav makes way for a unique “sound” thats not only ambient and soothing but also heavy and djenty.

Dan’s vocals are perfectly suited and Marty rolls up his sleeve big time to create something not usually in his style of playing.The two tracks – Celestial and Catharsis are definitely a big add on  in the increasingly popular subgenre of  progressive metal .

To experience the awesomeness check this out!

1.Celestial
2.Catharsis
both featuring Dan Tompkins (ex- TesseracT) and Marty Friedman(ex- Megadeth)

 

Uneven Structure – Februus (Djent,Math,Progressive Metal)


Apart from their mouthwatering cuisine and romantic hotspots , the french have yet again offered us – Uneven Structure.

They came out with their EP in 2009 – time when the Djent scene was picking up pace – and it wasnt untill  a year later that their efforts got the credit(globally) it deserved. These guys have been on my ipod for almost a year now and their musical brilliance still baffles me.

Two words to describe this album – Heavily Ambient
Right from the first track “Awaken” to the aptly named “Finale” you are made to bow down before this pagan-god themed album. The echoing screams and the crystal clear vocals blend in effortlessly into each track.
The beauty of Februus is that even when the songs reach their climax in terms of heaviness – the atmosphere created is nothing short of serene.
“Frost” – my pick from the album- has its atmospheric passages which make you feel you are actually coming in terms to something that is beyond words and celestial . The influence of Tesseract is quite audible but the dark ambient passages which throw a bright light of maximum “djenty twang” is something that is signature Uneven Structure.

With the saturation of bands trying to go over-board with Djent guitar tone – Uneven structure preserves their progression from their EP and add up brilliant atmospherics and insane drum rudiments to their debut LP.
Fans of ANY sub-genre of metal can seamlessly fit into their style of music as it caters to ears that crave for melody as well as musical complexity and brutality.

This album is a sure winner in the slew of releases of the similar genre (as of yet – we still have Vildhjarta to surprise us)  and marks the beginning of a band which knows exactly HOW to harness the power of Djent .

Recommended Tracks
1.Frost

…and the whole album!

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