Indian/American outfit Skyharbor are a band that have defied convention and expectations almost from the get-go; initially beginning life as a file on guitarist Keshav Dhar’s laptop as a solo project, the band quickly took on a life of its own. Now the band spans continents, and this is echoed through the vast scope of the music, encompassing elements from crunchy tech metal and prog rock to Eric Emery’s soaring, poppy vocals.
Sunshine Dust had a rocky beginning; at one point the band confirmed they weren’t entirely happy with what they’d got at the time and so the album was entirely re-recorded, which naturally pushed back the release date. This, coupled with the 2015 departure of original vocalist Dan Tompkins (who was re-joining fellow tech-metallers TesseracT) and drummer Anup Sastry which led to the introduction of Eric Emery and Aditya Ashok on vocals and drums respectively; led to the not insignificant four year gestation period between Sunshine Dust and its predecessor Guiding Lights. There are certain tells to this - about half the songs have been released as singles between 2014 and now - but despite this there’s still been significant work done, such as early highlight ‘Synthetic Hands’, a significant reconfiguring of earlier single ‘Chemical Hands’.
Something Skyharbor have done well from the start is atmosphere, and it shows. Sunshine Dust is packed full of sweeping, cinematic prog rock and soaring poppy vocal hooks to ensnare the listener, while still keeping some of the tech metal crunch and guitar-driven sections that characterised their very first release. Over time, these crunchy elements, while not lost, have taken more of a backseat to this cinematic sound Skyharbor have been refining over the years. Despite this, and very much the exception to the rule, ‘Dissent’ features far more guitar-driven riffing and harsh vocals with a nu-metal slant to it and is the most aggressive track on the record by a clear mile; it still, however, features their trademark soaring chorus and as such while it does stick out clearly from other tracks, doesn’t derail proceedings entirely. Following this is the aptly titled ‘Menace’ that features another furious blast of crunchy, dissonant riffs and harsh vocals before instrumental interlude and penultimate track ‘Temptress’ takes the threads of dissonance and weaves them together with somewhat distorted whispers underneath and ties them off neatly before the album culminates with ‘Sunshine Dust’, which eases its way in with calm and serene melodies, rejecting the darkness that came before.
For all the musicianship on display, and perhaps because of the four-year gestation, the album feels like it’s often playing it safe; not one song, despite the soaring melodies designed to worm their way into your head, sticks around longer than its running time and don’t lend themselves to being remembered particularly well. As well as this, and despite the fact the entire album as re-recorded, there’s a total inability to self-edit here with four songs out of a whopping thirteen(!) going over the six-minute mark seemingly without justification and the entire runtime stretches just over the hour, and the album sinks under its own weight. It's sure to please many fans, and perhaps gain a few new listeners too, but had there been a couple of songs trimmed here and there - or even just trimmed down to avoid bloat - Sunshine Dust could have been a shining example of the genre done well, with lush soundscapes and wonderful layered melodies, but it falls just shy of the lofty bar Skyharbor have clearly set themselves.