India’s latest metal offering is a project that Keshav Dhar has incubated for 4 years, in a journey that Keshav describes as “epiphanies and disappointments, frustration and jubilation.” Skyharbor. You will hear this word whispered in the dank underbelly of the Indian metal following. You will hear it screamed by teeming thousands in the testosterone-fueled mosh-pits of the subcontinent. Remember the name well, because you will hear it again, and you will hear it spoken of with awe.
The only metallers from India that match the sheer perfectionism of the sound on this album are Undying Incorporated, and the comparison ends there. Yes, perfectionism, as what is apparent on this record is that Keshav is not just a perfectionist, but his method and way is a perfectionist one. Professionally produced by Keshav himself, the sound of Skyharbor is massive, and it is a pleasure the likes of which I haven’t heard in India, ever.
Where Undying is tight, oppressive, groovy, and viciously angry and possesses a sound that is much like Pantera had babies with Vader and Meshuggah, Skyharbor is smooth, and carries a vast space with it that is reminiscent of Opeth’s acoustic passages, or early Anathema. That doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy, though. Blinding White Noise is crushing. From the very first track, Dots, you begin to understand what a mad genius Keshav really is.
After a dissonant guitar riff, the wall of sound hits you square and ex-Tesseract vocalist Daniel Tompkins’ tenor voice is propelled fiendishly by progressive and distorted riffing, setting the tone for the entire feast to come. Daniel has never sounded better. His sequences in Tesseract were arguably prone to too much noodling and too little structure, but here his range and power shine through an anti-septic haze of ambient noise. Electronic scratches and effects fit into the atmosphere of the space-tech sound in the album like pieces in a jigsaw.
Keshav’s brand of Djent guitar is the apt framework for a singer with so much variety in his repertoire. Misha Mansoor of Periphery would stamp Keshav’s album in approval and at that, decisively. Every one of the blistering Djent riffs on Blinding White Noise is as delectably complex as Bulb’s diverse Djent portfolio, and as effective a hook as something out of Scar Symmetry’s Holographic Universe. There is something for both lovers of melodic and atonal metal here.
Add legendary guitarist Marty Friedman to the mix, and what you get is a genre-breaking album that is crushing and brutal, melodic and ethereal, technical, transient and monumental. Sections in the latter half of Maeva, Celestial and Aurora are as accessible as they are technical and showcase the prowess of Keshav Dhar as often as they showcase that of Dan Tompkins.
Fans of Periphery, Born of Osiris, Meshuggah, Deftones, Refused and Scar Symmetry will all find something about this record that will keep them waiting on the Facebook fan page for Keshav’s next offering.
Dropping a Djent record within months of Meshuggah’s Koloss is a gutsy move. However, it turns out to be an appropriate one, as Keshav’s production seamlessly blends Kolossal riffs with Opethian grace. The transitions are perfect. The only gripe you might have with Blinding White Noise is with some progressions, like in the end of Order 66, where the instruments seem to dally around instead of reaching for the stratosphere, which Daniel Tompkins is trying to hit with his pitch.
These moments are rare, though, as every song finds its own unique potential, each one sounding different from the next. This is natural, as vocal duties are shared between two vocalists – Bhayanak Maut frontman Sunneith Revankar lends his dulcet notes to the last three tracks of the record. So is the album divided – with the Dan Tompkins songs titled Illusion, and Revankar’s titled Chaos.
The number of great metal influences you hear on Blinding White Noise are interwoven with apparent ease. The ambient guitar sections that connect the “illusion and chaos” are masterfully produced and mixed.
The drums of Anup Sastry and the bass of Nikhil Rufus are a tight and focused rhythm section that complements and supports the madness in the foreground, but are nothing quite spectacular as far as progressive metal bands are concerned. Their concern is evidently with tightness for the sake of the music, not with technicality or originality.
If you’re an Indian metalhead, this CD is a must-buy for you. In all likelihood, this is the seminal modern metal record for India, and will influence many other bands to come. Foreign audiences will find the sound a familiar one, and might finally accept an Indian band into the fraternity of world-class metal musicians. Perhaps, finally, now fans will speak the names of Meshuggah, Periphery and Animals as Leaders in the same breath as that of Skyharbor.
The verdict? 4 and a half stars. Keeping the half star for Skyharbor’s next record.