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Skyharbor - Guiding Lights  CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.04 | 75 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Probably one of the most pleasant surprises I've ever come across. Skyharbor's first album in 2012 was an intriguing listen, but never my absolute favorite. There were times the screams didn't make sense mingled with the heavier sections, before it all gave way to a peaceful serenity of distortion and electronic bliss. It would seem then, from a metalhead's point of view, that taking away the screams from a progressive metalcore outfit would ruin the sound.

On the contrary it doesn't. It makes it so much better. So much better, that it might be one of my favorite albums. Ever.

Something marvelous happened between "Blinding White Noise" and "Guiding Lights". Someone, either in the band or the studio realized that the sound the band developed might have been too ordinary, but realized that the juciest bits of the album were the subtle interactions between the power chords, the gentle choruses and those beautiful gaps of soundscapes. So, with this album, they got rid of the screaming. And the result is sensational.

I've always had a soft spot for catchy songs, songs you could jam out to in the car without getting strange looks from passerby (although I love songs like that as well). As such, I've continued this growing obsession for Porcupine Tree, Dead Letter Circus, Karnivool, and others. And there's something about this band that just clicks from the moment you press play on "Allure". Every time I review an album I really like, I always throw in that obligatory "special something" the band has that just locks me in and never lets me go.

This "special something" is immediately prevalent when "Allure" starts up. It starts off with a jazzy distorted chord, but soon after, heavy distortion and power chords give way to catchy choruses and beautifully laid back and melodic phrases between the guitars. And from the first listen, I notice something. This is something special. A catchy band, with secret phrases and melodies that glue me to their music, but are at the same time, fresh, original, inviting. It's a rare commodity, one that these guys better take to the bank, because they've stumbled across something amazing.

"Evolution" solidifies it. "Allure" is heavier, but a bit drawn out. "Evolution" is the epitome of this signature sound. The main theme kicks in this brutal djent-like distortion, but after displacing beat 1 in the connecting bridge, singer Daniel Tompkins just serenades with absolutely wonderful vocals. Even 5 years ago, heavy bands would've been shunned for incorporating vocals, but now it's important to survival, as evidenced by this shift in sound; it's made them better. The song is even structured similarly! After the verse comes a chorus, followed by a second verse. But then the prog influence kicks in and a sub theme is introduced underneath this laid-back haze of guitars and syncopated drumming, followed by a signature soundscape, filtered with only guitars, electronics and a subtle woman's voice piercing the veil, before the guitars brutally kick back in and pound the chorus home. It's one of the few moments in music I've ever dared to describe with words like "serene", "sublime", "breathtaking". But that's exactly what I've done.

And frankly, this recipe is used over and over again throughout the album. Never exactly to a T, but those crucial factors, the ethereal soundscapes and fluttering guitars, the beautiful vocals, the heavy distorted power chords, and just the overall ease and accessibility to these songs is mind blowing. It's one of few albums that's not only heavy, but it's an album I actually find relaxing! Soothing, calming. It's something else, for sure.

On top of all that, most of these songs, like "Allure", "Evolution", "Miracle", "Idle Minds", all of these songs have key phrases, key melodies and choruses that I remember. It's one reason I have these songs on my driving playlist in my car. Not only do they continue to move and relax, but they're also catchy! The songwriting is so impressive because the lyrics are staggered enough to not feel oppressive or repetitive, but in also repeating key choruses and melodies like traditional pop songs, there's a sense of familiarity to the song structures, and as a result, once they've finally sucked you in, then they drop out the drums and let the soundscapes of distortion, electronics and singing create a hypnotic potion of ambiance and serenity.

For someone who's had some mental issues in the past, and struggled with trying not to be socially awkward, I've hit moments of depression where I just needed something to kick me out of that funk, and ever since I've discovered this album, it's been the cure. I wouldn't call it a "thinking man's" album, but for those of you who tend to get lost deep in thought or just need something relaxing and out of the ordinary, trust me, this is an amazing blend of djent-influenced metal that's not only heavy, but also relaxing and catchy!

This is the album I think The Contortionist tried to make with "Languages", but this just has that special "it" factor that keeps me coming back for more. Fans of Dead Letter Circus, Karnivool, Breaking Orbit, Today I Caught The Plague, even Periphery and Animals As Leaders, all of you should give this album a listen. It sounds like a simple album, but combined with the fantastic production and quality of the sound, this is just something special that you cannot miss. Get it, somehow, please. Buy, download, steal this album, whatever you do. Just get it.

Trust me, your brain will reward you with fewer headaches in return.

Wicket | 5/5 |


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