Artist: Avandra

Album Title: Skylighting

Label: Layered Reality Productions

Date of Release: 20 November 2020

I owe Avandra a great debt of gratitude. Last year, I lost my writing mojo and went for several months without publishing anything on my website. However, whilst attending ProgPower Europe 2019, I had an opportunity to listen to a few records, both during the festival and on the journey to and from the Netherlands. One of those albums was ‘Descender’ by Puerta Rican progressive metal band Avandra. Inspired by the weekend, and the music I heard, I regained my desire to write and ‘Descender’ became one of the albums that I reviewed immediately after the slump.

A year later, and happily we are presented with ‘Skylighting’, the band’s third album, and first for the Layered Reality Productions label. Apparently, we can thank the pandemic for the swift turnaround on this because the worldwide lockdown meant that the guys had time on their hands, leading to a rich vein of inspiration. Finally, a little silver lining to an otherwise fairly negative year for the music industry and for bands in general.

The catalyst for ‘Skylighting’ was the opening track, ‘Celestial Wreaths’, a song written by founding member Christian Ayala, initially as a one-off as a response the Covid-19 pandemic. From there though, the floodgates opened and in double-quick time, seven full compositions had been written and recorded. Where music is concerned, speed does not always equal quality and so I was a little apprehensive going into this review, hoping that this promising South American quartet would be able to build on the solid foundations of ‘Descender’.

The great news is that, simply put, ‘Skylighting’ is another fine addition to their discography.

I cannot tell you how much I love the intro to ‘Celestial Wreaths’, the opening cut on ‘Skylighting’. It is bright, breezy, incredibly melodic, and full of life and vibrancy. The guitar riff is superb, supplemented by expansive, immersive synths, before the rhythm section joins the party. That sense of smoothness that I spoke so much about within my review of ‘Descender’ is immediately present and correct. It means that despite a definite metal core, the music seeps into your ears like liquid honey thanks in part to the layers of rich keys courtesy of guest musician, Vikram Shankar, and Ayala’s vocal delivery. The lead guitar solos are beautiful and melodious, whilst the crunch of the rhythm chords is delicious. But it’s that central melody that does the most damage, sending a shiver or two down my spine every time it re-emerges.

The beat and rhythms that are introduced on ‘Noetic Probes’ after a more protracted and introspective piano-heavy intro are superb, helping to underline the progressive tendencies of this talented band. The mood is darker than its predecessor and the melodies slightly less pronounced, but it is no less intriguing. I’m a real sucker for distorted chords that are allowed to ring out and resonate, something that happens within this song, creating a real impact as the synths continue to dance alongside the bass and drums.

The impact that Shankar has had on this release cannot be understated, but to not mention the talents of bassist Gabriel Alejandro Rodríguez, drummer Adrián Arroyo, guitarist Luis Javier Rivera, and vocalist/guitarist Christian Ayala would do these guys a disservice. Great performances all across the band is the reason why ‘Skylighting’ is such an incredibly satisfying listen. I get the impression that each member could have gone off and embellished the music with loads of individual flamboyance, such are their abilities. And whilst the playing is impressive and technical, everything comes together for the good of the song, rather than anything else.

‘Life Is Not a Circle, But A Sphere’ begins with a really emotional intro, the kind that catches you and regardless of your mood can create a lump in your throat. The melodies are beautiful, the minimalist approach lending them as much strength as possible. The song gently builds, eventually exploding. The riffs are slightly more djent in tone, but they never threaten to overpower the atmosphere, feel and melodic intent of the song. I particularly like the deftness of the guitar playing that is evident throughout this track and indeed, across the album at large.

One of my slightly negative comments about the previous Avandra release was that it was a little long. ‘Skylighting’ has more than ably addressed this criticism, as the seven tracks clock in at a much more palatable 42 minutes. One could argue that one more track would have been nice, but that’s just me being the most inconsistent and mealy-mouthed reviewer on the planet. But it underlines how much I like this record that I’m almost wanting more.

‘Eternal Return’ is the longest track on ‘Skylighting’ and it sees Ayala delivering some of him most forceful and emotional vocals, almost shouting to the heavens at times. The ebb and flow of the track is rather delicious too, reminding me just a little of more recent Wolverine output in some ways. It’s a grower that has become a firm favourite, driven by a pulsating bass at its heart, and featuring both guitar and key solos along the way.

‘ProcGen’ is much calmer and more ambient in tone. It has the sense of floating out of the speakers, whilst the lead guitar work in evidence is beautiful, and emotive. The synths come into their own from the half-way point as Shankar pulls out the full orchestration, upon which a gorgeous melody emerges, supplemented by more expressive lead guitar work.

By contrast, ‘Affarent Realms’ comes out swinging from moment one. Lead guitars wail over an insistent beat that’s ‘classic’ prog in its apparent complexity (well, it befuddles me, in any case!). The guitars and keys never stop on this song, with one or the other always injecting a sense of urgency and flamboyance into the music, whilst Ayala continues to sing with a calmness and assurance that counterbalances the more effervescent musicality that sits behind him on this track. There’s even a foray into more extreme territory towards the end, complete with bruising riffs and gruff death metal vocals. For my tastes, this is a lovely addition, and I love it.

The ambience heard elsewhere is brought to the fore on the closing track, ‘New Origins’. Shankar’s orchestral synths are stunning here, laying a mesmerising foundation for some spoken-word lyrics initially and then later for some almost post-rock style guitars and a simple but effective rhythmic beat.

On the basis of ‘Skylighting’, Avandra are a band definitely on the up. This is a superb record from a band that could go far within progressive circles. I cannot wait to hear this music performed live in 2021 at ProgPower Europe, as I’m sure on-stage the music will take on even greater significance. As it is, I can only applaud Avandra for their efforts here, in producing such an engrossing and rewarding album. Check this one out if melodic, atmospheric progressive music is your thing, I implore you.

The Score of Much Metal: 93%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Pyramaze – Epitaph

Necrophobic – Dawn Of The Damned

Fates Warning – Long Day Good Night

Draconian – Under A Godless Veil

Mörk Gryning – Hinsides Vrede

DGM – Tragic Separation

Perduratum – Exile’s Anthology

Carcass – Despicable EP

Mors Principium Est – Seven

Cult Of Lilith – Mara

Helion Prime – Question Everything

Soul Secret – Blue Light Cage

Enslaved – Utgard

Dynfari – Myrkurs er þörf

Amaranthe – Manifest

Kataklysm – Unconquered

Structural Disorder – Kingdom Crossing

Skeletal Remains – The Entombment Of Chaos

Prehistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter One)

Ihsahn – Pharos

Hinayana – Death Of The Cosmic
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber
Okyr – Premorbid Intelligence
Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live
Pain Of Salvation – Panther
Vanishing Point – Dead Elysium
Unleash The Archers – Abyss
Veonity – Sorrows
Nyktophobia – What Lasts Forever
Ages – Uncrown
Awake By Design – Awake By Design
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews