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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

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

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