As I write this, my news feed is flooded with photos from Skyharbor’s triumphant set at the NH7 Weekender Pune. The five-piece prog-metal band has had a fantastic year, with sets at Download Festival, Graspop, and a short European year. And now they’re out with their crowd-funded sophomore album, Guiding Lights, which has been mixed and mastered by Australian producer Forrester Savell of Karnivool and Animals as Leaders fame. Not bad for a band that started life as a solo project in guitarist Keshav Dhar’s bedroom.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the band’s debut Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, largely because it became something of a Frankenstein’s Monster – a coterie of guest musicians had tacked their varied and often inconsistent contributions onto Keshav Dhar’s demos. Guiding Lights benefits from having a fixed line-up involved in the song-writing from the start. Collaborations are great, of course, but nothing beats having a group of people working together to fulfill a singular vision.
There’s also a significant change in sound on this one – a lot of the djent riffing is gone, or pushed deep under the mix, and vocalist Daniel Tomkins has traded in his often over-the-top vocal theatrics for a style that is closer to later era Maynard James Keenan. In fact, there’s not a whole lot of metal on Guiding Lights. Instead, the band digs deep into their alt-rock and progressive influences, with an end-product that is closer to Tool or Karnivool than anything out of the djent/prog-metal stable. The atmospheric elements that seemed a little forced on Blinding White Noise form an integral part of the songs here. Fans of Goddess Gagged will also hear a lot of that band’s influence on here, probably courtesy guitarist Devesh Dayal and bassist Krishna Jhaveri. They’ve even thrown in a fair bit of post-rock and a thin layer of 80s pop sheen into the mix. It all adds up to a coherent and consistent listening experience that is pretty unique.
Fans of Dhar’s riffing – like on the ‘Chaos’ side of Blinding White Noise – might be a bit disappointed though. Lead single ‘Evolution’ is the most riff-happy song on the record, but even here they’re used more as a tease and a tie-in to their earlier work. The album largely maintains a restrained pace, trading in crushing heaviness for an ethereal, melodic beauty. Perhaps the best example of this is album highlight ‘Halogen’, a masterclass in songwriting that constantly changes and morphs even as it maintains a cinematic, post-rocky vibe throughout. The ambient outro with female spoken word vocals transitions into the up-tempo and catchy ‘New Devil’, a great track which features both djent riffing and languid blues rock soloing.
But then there’s ‘Patience’, a Steven Wilson-esque ballad that abandons the riffs altogether. It’s beautiful enough, and it’ll make Porcupine Tree fans very happy, but it’s also the song that I’ve skipped the most often over the two weeks I’ve been listening to this record despite being one of the shorter tracks on here. Maybe it’s just because I’m naturally suspicious of ballads, but it veers perilously close to the bloated self-indulgence that is the bane of so much modern progressive music.
But that’s one of my few major complaints here. Dhar and Co. have put together a slick, very well produced prog album that manages to incorporate a lot of disparate influences while still having a sound of its own. If you’re a fan of progressive rock and metal, then this is going to be one of the better albums you listen to this year.
Stream Guiding Lights by Skyharbor below:
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