Album Review: Skyharbor - Guiding Lights
There seem to be two fates of newly formed bands and their sophomore releases: 1) the first album becomes so wonderful and well-crafted that each album afterwards never reaches the height of the first, or 2) the band struggles with the creative process for a few albums before something arises that overcomes awkwardness and lack of confidence. I don’t like to generalize, and I don’t want to imply that either of these situations are necessarily bad, but this is just something that has happened a bit too often for me not to mention. Regardless, I believe that Skyharbor’s discography at this time follows the second situation; this band is really growing comfortable with making music and the quality of the music had increased and I can feel the momentum between albums after becoming familiar to the both of them.
They have found their niche in the progressive metal world. When the song gets heavy, the vocal part either steps aside or soars higher with even more intensity; no harsh vocals here. In this way, it is a more approachable album for the people who can’t stand screaming / growling lyrics, but the climaxes in Skyharbor songs still have an impact, in my opinion, because of the thick musical soundscape and focus on melodic elements. The soft parts are soothing, yes, and it also makes the loud parts feel even louder by comparison, and that is the power of well-placed dynamics!
It’s really quite a feat for the band to be making music together. We’re talking about a guitarist from New Delhi making a side project contacted by a vocalist from Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom, and a drummer from Frederick, Maryland making covers of his music being contacted and beginning to play the songs live together. And just like that, the rest of the pieces just fell into place (add +1 guitarist and +1 bassist) and they progressed from there… the tour, the album, the educational workshops, everything. It sure is a testament to humans’ ability to communicate long distance.
Since their first album: Blinding White Noise, was mostly written by a guitarist and fleshed out later, it’s understandably guitar riff-oriented. Making a somewhat stark comparison, the next album is powered by vocalist Daniel Tompkins and his previous projects (and his self-revealed influences, such as Deftones, Massive Attack, and Sigur Rós to name a few) and the other parts of each song focus on empowering the words and melodies. Another key word to describe this album is “ambient”; the band really shines when you try listening to their music as a whole, like a soundscape. As I said before, there is power in soft sections of their music, for sure. The musicians show their virtuosity and stand out once in a while but a majority of each song proves that these guys know how to function as a unit, with each piece preforming exactly what seems necessary for the song to feel "complete" in some kind of wordless aspect. Although it still isn't perfect, you don’t hear too much music that sounds quite like this does, even within the stereotypes of the genre. It has a lot to offer to both the seasoned genre freaks and the confused outsiders. So I recommend this to just about everybody willing to try it out, and especially to the people that feel like metal is that aggressive, awkward problem child in the corner that they never want to associate themselves with. This one’s for you.