Review Summary: As well as avoiding the sophomore slump, Skyharbor have surpassed their debut album on Guiding Lights, creating one of the best prog releases of the year.
Dan Tompkins certainly has his fair share in the music business. As well as being a vocal coach, he has recently rejoined his original band Tesseract as vocalist, he has recently released an outstanding debut for his new project, Piano, has performed session vocals for Haji's Kitchen and has released a few singles in the style of 80's pop music in his project In Colour.
One of the best projects he's been involved with, however, has been Skyharbor. Originally a studio project for Indian guitarist Keshav Dhar, Tompkins contacted Dhar expressing a desire to collaborate. This eventually led to the release of the release of Skyharbor's debut album, Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos. Whilst this album was in itself a very impressive piece of work, the rawness of the album showed it was still a work in progress. This was also emphasized by there being two vocalists on this album (Tompkins and Sunneith Revankar), and Dhar recorded most of the instruments himself.
However, fast forward to 2014 and Skyharbor is now a full band. Tompkins is now a full time singer, and Dhar has been joined by Goddess Gagged guitarist and bassist Devesh Dayal and Krishna Jhaveri. Drummer for the band is Intervals and Chimp Spanner drummer, Anup Sastry. So now that Skyharbor has become a full band, how does their second album, Guiding Lights, compare to their debut?
One of the first things to note about this album is the production, which is nothing short of sublime. Every instrument (including the bass) is very clearly audible and very well produced. What is even more impressive is that the album was produced by the band themselves. On many occasions, one may argue that high production on a metal album ruins the experience, but on Guiding Lights it actually enhances the sound, and makes it a much more pleasurable album to listen to.
Musically, this album is extremely impressive. This band showcases a very good ability to create something that a lot of metal bands try and fail to do: atmosphere. Instead of trying to combine ambience with ridiculously heavy riffs (Something Vildhjarta tried to do on their latest EP), they have opted to create the atmosphere using a 'softer' approach. Not to say that this album doesn't get heavy, as shown in lead single Evolution and opening track Allure. However, they are willing to take a softer approach for a lot of this album, sometimes even abandoning distortion altogether; second single Patience is reminiscent almost of something by A Perfect Circle or Porcupine Tree. The songwriting on this album is also worthy of praise. The title track is the perfect example of both great songwriting and atmosphere, and is musically the best song on the album. Overall, though, all ten tracks on this album are very impressive and there is no filler to be seen.
Each member of the band is able to showcase their skill throughout this album. Dan Tompkin's vocals shine as always throughout the entire album, with (thankfully) no harsh vocals at all. The guitar work and drumming is simple, but effective. The instrumentation definitely sticks to the 'less is more' principle on this album. Whilst it certainly isn't simplistic, it's not on the level of bands like Dream Theater, but it works for the album. For the most part, the bass simply backs up the guitars, but there are the opportunities for it to shine, such as in opening track Allure. But unlike a lot of metal albums nowadays, you can actually hear the bassist, which is always a nice surprise.
On Guiding Lights, Skyharbor have surpassed their already impressive debut in every way. The album shows that they are a legitimate band, rather than just a studio project. The future for this band is bright, and the album title is very appropriate, since their guiding lights are definitely leading them on the right road.