As a journalist, you learn to hate deadlines with a vengeance. You’re never really satisfied with a story, and you always think that with some more time and some more tweaking, you’ll end up with a Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. Thankfully, the demands of the news cycle never give me that luxury, or all my reviews would be as tweaked to death as this Skyharbor debut.
I’ve been a fan of Keshav Dhar’s Hydrodjent project (which evolved into Skyharbor) since I came across his first demos on the RSJ forums four years ago. His brand of prog-influenced djent was a breath of fresh air in a metal scene still infested with Lamb of God rip-offs and leather clad metalheads stuck in the ’80s (I’m looking at you, Kryptos). What started as a bedroom project has evolved into one of India’s most hyped metal acts, with guest spots by Sunneith Revankar (Bhayanak Maut, Providence), Daniel Tomkins (ex-Tesseract), Vishal J Singh (Amogh Symphony) and Marty Friedman (Cacophony, Megadeth, countless solo albums released in Japan). Having scored a deal with UK-based Basick Records, Skyharbor’s debut, Blinding White Noise: Illusion and Chaos, promised to be one of the biggest releases to come out of the Indian metal scene. The album mostly lives up to that promise, but is marred somewhat by the temptation to add more and more layers to the music, which spoils some of its most brilliant moments.
The album is divided into two parts, the more ambient and progressive Illusion and the heavy, aggressive Chaos. Opener ‘Dots’ kicks off with an incredibly epic intro, but the technical brilliance of the track is over-shadowed by Dan Tompkins’ failed attempt at pulling off a Chino Moreno. It’s not that his vocals are terrible, but they seem to be working at cross purposes with the instrumental arrangements. This mismatch of vocals and instrumentation distracts from the song-writing and is a recurring problem on the album.
‘Catharsis’ was a favourite from the Hydrodjent demos, but Keshav’s excellent song-writing is again laid to waste by the guest musicians. Dan Tompkins continues to sing like he’s auditioning for a Deftones cover band, and Marty Friedman’s solo on the track is under-whelming at best.
The atmospheric ‘Aurora’ is one of the highlights on Illusion and one of the few tracks where Tompkins’ vocals actually work. The drum loops and electronic samples add an interesting facet to the Skyharbor sound.
The heavy, in-your-face Chaos is a different beast though. Sunneith Revankar’s guttural vocals sync perfectly with the music, and the Periphery-influenced ‘Trayus’ is a masterclass in brutality and technicality. ‘Aphasia’ and ‘Insurrection’ offer a beefed up, adrenalin fuelled take on the band’s sound that promises to be the highlight of their live set.
Despite all my negativity, I still really like this album. Keshav Dhar is an accomplished songwriter and producer, and most of the false notes come from the guest musicians. Blinding White Noise is a good debut by any standards, but it falls just short of being the great Indian metal album that it should have been.