By Tyler Hersko
With a four-year gap between records, two lineup changes, and an entire re-recording, it was fair for the anticipation of Skyharbor‘s long-awaited third album to be tempered by a reasonable dose of skepticism. Thankfully, Sunshine Dust hits the mark far more often than it misses. The result is an album that should easily appeal to established fans and new listeners alike. Though this is a leaner, faster, and occasionally more aggressive version of Skyharbor, Sunshine Dust still stays fairly true to the band’s established sound, despite the personnel changes.
Many of Sunshine Dust’s successes are attributed to the improved songwriting chops of band founder and guitarist Keshav Dhar. Ultimately, Sunshine Dust is a tighter, more approachable offering than anything Skyharbor has released in the past. Most of its songs hover around the four-minute mark. They move briskly through their respective highlights while having enough variance in tone and technicality to keep things consistently engrossing.
While 2013’s Guiding Lights also boasted plenty of moments that ranged from good to incredible, the far longer average runtime per song made the album, as a whole, a tasking listen—especially considering it front-loaded most of its best songs. Sunshine Dust is almost as long as Guiding Lights, but the former’s shorter, more concise songs make it far easier to digest.
There’s plenty of quality things to dig into here, too. “Dim” kicks the record into gear after a brief intro and exemplifies many of Sunshine Dust’s best traits. It’s a fairly straightforward track, smoothly moving from huge choruses to fast, guitar-laden sections that have just enough technicality to keep things interesting. Still, they are never so outlandish or too long to detract from the song’s accessible pacing.
Of course, Dhar is responsible for far more than Sunshine Dust‘s cohesive songwriting: He and his fellow instrumentalists strike a superb blend of laid-back melody and lively energy that allow “Dim” and many of the album’s other highlights, such as “Out of Time,” “Ethos,” and “Ugly Heart” to radiantly shine. There is also no shortage of uplifting rifts and appropriate bursts of noisy chugging and technicality. The album manages to keep the majority of its sound fresh throughout its hour-plus runtime.
Also of note are the vocals on Sunshine Dust. Ex-vocalist Daniel Tompkins’ phenomenal work on Guiding Lights was good enough to almost single-handedly put Skyharbor on the international metal radar and his departure meant that newcomer Eric Emery had sizable shoes to fill. Thankfully, he does so in dazzling, albeit not perfectly consistent, style.
When he’s on, Emery’s soaring, melodious vocals are responsible for as many high points on Sunshine Dust. The aforementioned “Ethos” and “Ugly Heart” contain plenty of fantastic riffs but Emery’s superb cleans elevate the track even more. They are on-point whether he’s supplementing the zippy guitar-focused sections or serving the music’s forefront with epic, infectious choruses. Most of Sunshine Dust’s best songs—like the fantastic title track closer—allow space for both vocal and instrumental highlights. Yet, Emery largely carries other tracks like “Blind Side,” an instrumentally sound song elevated to excellence by his practically ethereal vocal performance.
Emery also reintroduced harsh vocals to Skyharbor’s sound, though the results aren’t exactly going to turn heads. They’re inoffensive when used sparingly, but “Dissent” and “Menace” feature prominent screams, though there’s precious little force behind them and they don’t counteract each song’s whiny, grating choruses. While “Menace”’s hefty closer is fairly impressive, each song’s aggressive take is mostly a miss. “Dissent” practically sounds like Skyharbor’s take on nü-metal, and it’s out of place.
While Sunshine Dust’s heavier songs stumble, they’re not the album’s only low points. “Synthetic Hands’” instrumentation is passable, but derailed by a grating, borderline whiny chorus. It’s an issue that also plagues “Disengage/Evacuate.” The latter song leans heavily into the band’s progressive elements but drags on for far too long without doing anything interesting. It is particularly disappointing since it’s one of the record’s lengthiest pieces.
Regardless, these downers aren’t enough to detract from the many things that Sunshine Dust does right. The album’s strong points are considerable, and more than frequent enough to forgive its occasional pitfalls. Established fans should love this, and there’s plenty of quality content here to heartily recommend Sunshine Dust to Skyharbor newcomers.