It was a bit of a shock to learn of the abrupt sacking of Gareth Jones and Vinden Wylde from Cardiff rock band The Reasoning back in 2009.
But it wasn’t long before the pair of them bounced back with a brand new project, Sankara. Jay McDonald and Rhayn Jooste from the recently imploded celtic folk-metal band The Bluehorses soon joined to complete the lineup, and a well-received four-track EP Enigma appeared in 2011. After a first few live appearances, the band have now unleashed their first full-length album, entitled Guided By Degrees.
Much like their first record, it’s a polished mix of melodic hard rock and AOR ballads. There’s some of the feel of The Reasoning’s very early work before they moved in a more prog-metal direction, and there are a few moments that recall 70s Styx before they descended into cheese. But Sankara have their own sound, built around strong riffs and anthemic choruses.
Gareth Jones proves to be an excellent vocalist. His voice was always rather underused in his previous band, sharing lead vocals with two other singers. Here he proves he’s more than capable of fronting the band on his own. His keyboard work is less prominent, largely restricted to some colour and the occasional piano fill. The dominant lead instrument is Jay McDonald’s guitar, although even he focuses on riffs and keeps the solos short and to the point. So much so that there’s a feeling the album might have benefited had he cut loose once or twice.
The rhythm section of Vinden Wylde and the now-departed Rhayn Jooste lay down solid grooves rather than indulge in any kind of self-indulgent showboating, underlining the fact that Sankara are more a straight-ahead rock band than a prog-metal one.
High points include the punchy hard rockers ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘The Harm Principle’, and the ballad ‘Lullaby for a Lost Boy'; a semi-epic that seems to pack an awful lot of music into four minutes. One real highlight is ‘The Dolls House’ with a guest appearance on vocals from another Reasoning alumni, Maria Owen-Midlane. A keyboard-led ballad, it combines some great vocal harmonies between Owen and Jones, and one of the album’s few excursions into prog-rock in the instrumental break.
This is a solid piece of work, which ought to establish Sankara as a band who mean business.
At an LP-length forty minutes it’s a record that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, and there’s no room for much in the way of filler. It has a rich sound with enough layers of guitar and vocal overdubs to give them a few problems replicating parts of the album live as a four-piece. So it wasn’t entirely surprising that the band have now advertised for a second guitarist and backing singer to help do the material justice on stage. It will be very interesting to see how Sankara develop in the future.
The album is released on November 17 with a launch party at The Buffalo Bar in Cardiff.Sankara