April 15, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
Around this time last year, the UK music press got a collective hard-on for Djent. The Guardian, Metal Hammer and Terrorizer all ran pieces on the scene. Bands like TesseracT, Periphery and Animals as Leaders blew up with a slew of decent (and mostly debut) albums. From those pieces plenty of other bands got some exposure; Chimp Spanner, Uneven Structure and Circles to name a few, but my favourite was a one man project from India named Skyharbor.
Originally a one-man bedroom project called Hydrodjent, it’s taken four years of evolution to go from guitarist/songwriter Keshav Dhar’s instrumental demos to international release. Over that time the excitement levels have risen and the expectations from hardcore fans are high.
Blinding White Noise is made up of two sides, Illusion and Chaos. Illusion makes up the vast majority, taking up seven of the eleven tracks, and where your opinion on the record will be formed. Joining Dhar is a host of special guests; Marty Friedman (Megadeth), Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT), Vishal J. Singh (Amogh Symphony) & Sunneith Revankar (Bhayanak Maut).
Opener Dots sums up the first disc; Layers of melody passing seamlessly into big staggered Djent riffs, with Thompkin’s vocals constantly moveing between his trademark melody and screams. Likewise Order 66 continues with dynamic song writing and plenty of time changes Thompkins, previously of TesseracT, sent an email saying he liked the music and wanted to sing on a song, and quickly it went from one to seven. His contribution is key to the Illusion experience, and he does a great job. Celestial and Catharsis are the high points. Both clocking in around the seven minute mark, They build on the style of the shorter songs and add a slight progressive edge. Catharsis builds slowly, adding layer upon layer, building and becoming more intense, then broken in the middle for a great solo before it cuts back and reaches a big end.
Illusion feels very ethereal, like a massive dreamscape. It sounds like the perfect soundtrack to one of those glow in the dark scenes from Avatar. Most effective when listened to as a whole, it’s always building towards a peak before it calms down and starts again- Dots and Order 66 build to Cartharsis before slowing down and starting the process again. Night acts a breather, then Aurora flows nicely into the epic Celestial, while Maeva leads to a huge conclusion.
A lot of the hardcore djenters and bloggers have taken a dislike to Thompkins, his impassioned vocals can divide if you’re not a fan of his clean style. And in all honesty, as great a shift as he puts in, the album’s biggest/only problem is he takes over the entire album. Sometimes you feel the record just needs a bit of breathing space to really let Dhar flex his muscles and show why there was so much hype around the release.
The problem with Djent is there are too many guys in their bedrooms widdling away to themselves and then putting it online. Technically gifted as these guys may be, there’s too many musicians and not enough song writers. A few bands have overcome this hurdle, and over time Hydrodjent evolved from a musician to a fully fledged band in Skyharbor. A quick search online and you should be able to find the old instrumental versions of these songs, and to compare them to Blinding… is to hear a different thing altogether.
But that’s the great thing about Skyharbor. The album isn’t a collection of riffs but a collection of real songs. Dhar isn’t afraid to step outside the Djent style and show his mellow side, or in the case of Chaos, rip your face off. Night shows deft touch at a gentle build up and the dynamics of the songs keep the balance between technical and listenable perfectly.
The Indian music scene is big, and growing all the time, and the fans are a passionate bunch. When the Rock In India festival 2010 announced Backstreet Boys as headliners following the like of Machine Head & Iron Maiden in previous years it caused a major upset. There’s also a lot of quality bands out there, but few world beaters. Bhayanak Maut are probably the biggest and best, with a sound that isn’t a million miles away from Lamb Of God. But there’s a good chunk of bands who can play and write decent songs, but never bothered to try to be different. Imagine taking all the UK thrash revival bands out there, and applying that philosophy to every genre in a whole country. So it’s nice to see a band that are really trying to push the boat out and really try something different.
It’s Maut’s vocalist Sunneith Revankar who handles the vocals for Chaos. The polar opposite of Illusion,Chaos is equally spectacular, just blistering heavy. Where Thompkins contribution was ethereal and had strong melodic leanings, Revankar growls and screams his way through a hectic 12 minutes. Dhar goes nuts, and his brutal riffing comes right to the forefront. There’s little to pick between Trayus, Aphasia, and Insurrection, they all fly by in a glorious headbanging haze. These tracks are at massive odds the previous seven tracks, and rightly put onto a different disc. But that doesn’t make them any less impressive.
Part of your enjoyment of this album may depend on how aware you were of Skyharbor under their old Hydrodjent moniker. After their mention on Metal hammer I quickly became a fan a cheeky download of this months ago, and it’s been on constant rotation and still feels fresh and exciting, and when it’s out to the public I’ll be running to get my copy.
All the biggest Djent bands right now are the ones who aren’t the bedroom projects, aren’t the ones being carbon copies of Meshugguh riffs. It’s the ones pushing the genre forward, trying new things, and most importantly not forgetting that songwriting is important. Original fans might not take the to the polish of the finished product but Skyharbor, for good or bad, have shown themselves to be different.