I’m a self-confessed fanboy of Vikram Shankar. Okay, that might be a little much to put it that way, but I’ve been following Vikram for years now, especially since he lives in my home state. Lately, he’s been busy joined Redemption, releasing an EP through his solo project, and now launching the debut for Lux Terminus. “The Courage to Be” releases on August 24th, and is a highlight of the year, without a doubt in my mind.
The band hails from Cleveland, Ohio, about 30 minutes north of where I personally live. The band consists of Vikram Shankar on piano and keyboards, Matthew Kerschner on drums, and Brian Craft on bass. Guests include Anneke Van Giersbergen on vocals, Timo Somers on guitar, and Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello.
The musical style is a bit of everything honestly. Right off the bat, I have to say that this album is unique: You won’t hear another one like it this year, or even for the last several years, either. The musical style technically is a “blend of progressive metal, rock, jazz fusion, electronic, and cinematic influences”, according to the press release. I want to clarify that a bit, though: The album first and foremost sounds jazzy, not just with saxophone (there is none) or something like that, but with real jazz and blues musical structures and chord progressions. That is the vibe you will hear right away, above all else. The band has added hefty portions of rock and electronic, too, fleshing out the jazz and making it feel alive and intense and vibrant. Yes, you will hear some progressive metal here, not in the sense of giant riffs, but rather in the form of shredding, especially on the keys. Lastly, the whole album comes wrapped in a cinematic package that makes it feel like it has various movements and meanings. It’s like a journey or experience, not an album.
Despite the unique sound of the music, I do hear plenty of influences that I think help describe the album. I hear such vibes as the melodic phrasing power of Journey, the jazzy grit of Miles Davis and Sam Morrison, the cinematic movements and electronic trappings of Vangelis (especially on Blade Runner and “The City”), the quirky colorful tones of early 90s Dream Theater, and the commanding lead keys of Kevin Moore and Jordan Ruddess. Faintly, I hear other such tones as 80s progressive pop, modern progressive metal, and other colorful accents. As much as that is to take in, the sound this band presents is purposeful, clear, and never muddled in noodling or filler.
The performances here are truly mind-blowing. Vikram has put out the best and most exhilarating keyboard/piano performance of the year, or maybe even the last few years. His shredding is balanced with equally amazing tender moments, synthy washes of color, and driving melodies. As genius as Vikram really is, Matthew and Brian are vital to the success of this band’s sound. Brian’s bass on this album ranges from casual bluesy atmospheres to pulsating technical grooves, both of which match Vikram’s raging keys note for note. Matthew’s drums, too, are incredibly prolific, with lots of impressive hand work, but also tasteful and powerful blast beats that give the overall sound of the album more oomph and power.
It’s difficult to describe in words how this album makes me feel. It has so much nostalgia and power that remind me of other musical loves of mine, but then it also comes with the added familiarity of Vikram’s signature sound, plus the grand cinematic theme behind it all, plus the conceptual themes of love and unity with another human being (Vikram’s personal romance) and the power of being who you are with that person. It’s a majestic, elegant, ambitious presentation of personal and every day life set to music, and it’s truly impressive.
It is incredibly difficult to pick favorites on this album. The songs form a wonderful structure conceptually and cinematically, punctuated with a four part suite that begins and ends the album, while recurring in the middle, too. That suite includes the attention-grabbing “Prologue: The Departure”, the whimsical and tender “The Journey” and “The Road Home”, and the finale that includes Anneke, “Epilogue: Fly”. This suite injects real feeling and color into that album, especially the hopeful and tender ending with Anneke.
Aside from the suite, my favorites are the kinetic class and celebratory nature of “Electrocommunion”, the jazzy grooves of “Miles Away”, and the truly astonishing fusion of jazz, electronic, and rock in “Effusion” (my favorite overall). The title track itself is a 20+ minute “epic” that feels nothing like the typical prog epic. It feels like a sweeping cinematic experience that sums up the conceptual feelings on the album in magnificent and yet personal fashion. It feels like 5 minutes, not twenty.
Lux Terminus has debuted with a year-crushing album in a year that has been incredibly strong already. “The Courage to Be” is easily one of the best instrumental albums I’ve ever heard, and will absolutely become one of my favorite overall albums ever. The combination of technical ability, melodic sensibility, nostalgic accents, and conceptual feelings is a true winner in all categories. This is an absolute must-hear for any serious prog fan.