Ask anyone dancing the night away in a club, to a barrage of trap beats and “soulful” sappy love songs about what their favourite metal bands and they would throw up at very idea – and it’s not the beverages. The metal fandom is synonymous with a niche group of disaffected outcasts with severe neck sprains. However, all this is about to change with budding prog metal virtuoso outfit Skyharbor and its latest outing, Sunshine Dust.
The Indian-American progressive metal band is a diverse group of musicians hailing from New Delhi and Mumbai, India; and Cleveland, Ohio. After a string of albums that were popular in the underground and some acclaimed festival gigs and world tours, the band has clearly blossomed into a focussed, innovative and evocative head banging machine. The aptly titled Sunshine Dust features a curious concoction of melody and metal grooves, featuring dark and nihilistic lyrics about politics and morality – the perfect metal recipe.
After being mesmerised by the album cover for a couple of minutes, we are treated to a very eerie and mysterious intro with ‘Signal’. The 81-second track leads us to what can only be described as a politically charged slap in the face with the hard-hitting and groovy ‘Dim’. The track has a grunge aesthetic with its fluctuating intensity and Eric Emery’s emotional vocals, reminiscent of a particular rap-metal group from the 2000s. His vocal prowess really shines on the very evocative and intense ‘Synthetic Hands’, when the track reaches an amazing crescendo with him pushing his pipes to their limits.
‘Blind Side’ opens with a set of chilling, atmospheric piano chords. This segues into a more familiar prog-metal guitar heavy track laced with lyrics that instil courage and boldness in the face of adversity. We are once again confronted with existential dilemmas with ‘Disengage/Evacuate’, following the same format laid out by the previous tracks by starting off slow and intimate and finishing off with an intense aftertaste. At this point in the album, this formulaic approach does get a little stale but is saved by the intense and detailed instrumentation and Emery’s infectious vocals. The female background vocals in some of the tracks are very dreamy, atmospheric and melodic. The songs up to this point very much echo the Grunge bands of the 90s with their grimy aesthetic.
Skyharbor turns the intensity up a notch with ‘Ethos’. The track is uncompromising and unrelenting in every aspect as the unstoppable guitar-drum duo storm through. Soon afterwards, the album takes a sharp left turn with the track, ‘Ugly Truth’. A significant portion of the track comprises a very intimate and soothing guitar-piano instrumental passage, which eventually succumbs to the roaring guitar solo and the incredibly pain-stricken vocals. ‘The Reckoning’ is the most interesting track on the record and is entirely instrumentals. The first half of the song features mellow, disco beats which at first seem completely out of place; however, the intensity builds up and the band artfully transitions from an almost EDM style track to a hard-hitting heavy metal instrumental passage. The ephemeral heavy metal dies off towards the end and we are treated to a quiet and intimate piano ballad.
‘Dissent’, like ‘Out Of Time’ features generic guitar riffs and the trademark metal growl. The only thing the track really has going for it is the shock factor considering it follows an interesting song in ‘The Reckoning’. The same can be said of ‘Menace’, which is a bit more of a chest-beating and strutting expression of self-confidence. This is followed by the eerie ‘Temptress’, which is yet another heavy metal instrumental passage iced with creepy whispers in the background. The finale, ‘Sunshine Dust’ brings garage rock vibes where Emery confides in the listener about his qualms about his mortality. The guitars run circles around the intricate and endearing lyrics over a punchy set of drums.
Overall, the album is definitely a significant step forward in both the band’s discography and the prog-metal genre as a whole. While Skyharbor tip-toes the line between sonically consistent and just plain repetitive, there are a lot of fresh and innovative ideas throughout the record, making it an enjoyable listen. The album is one hour of philosophy and existentialism-laced head banging which leaves the listener wanting for more.