First catching the attention of the instrumental progressive community in 2011, Glasgow guitarist Sithu Aye challenged the predominantly dark, overtly technical tone of the time with songs that were upbeat, melodic and virtuosic in performance. Though quite prolific in his release of EPs, Sithu Aye’s last full length album came out nearly four years ago. In an ambitious return to the album format, Set Course for Andromeda, to be released on May 4, is a two disc album spanning 76 minutes. Though such a lengthy outing has potential to be exhausting or repetitive, Set Course for Andromeda is fresh, fun and innovative with creative compositions, dazzling guitar pyrotechnics and pristine production that certainly has potential to be the instrumental album of the year.
Sithu describes the first disc as a diverse assortment of songs that are meant to be jarringly different from each other. Though each song is distinctly Sithu Aye, this album spans a variety of genres and moods. The majority of these seven tracks are epic in length, with the majority clocking in around eight minutes. In these extended song structures, Sithu‘s work evokes influences as diverse as David Bowie, Myrath, Periphery, Polyphia and Intervals. Though each song on the record is strong in its own right, personal favorites include “Constants and Variables” and “Beyond the Boundary.” These songs are journeys of their own, moving from the typically upbeat tone of Sithu’s work to darker and more diverse moments.
The presence of acoustic guitar is a brave choice in the instrumental metal community, but further broadens the sonic spectrum of the album while hearkening back to the classic prog and space rock songwriters whose influence is felt in the tone of the album. The guitar work is stellar on Sithu’s part, but the ante is increased with jaw-dropping performances by Jake Howsam Lowe and Stephen Taranto (The Helix Nebula), Plini, David Maxim Micic, Aaron Marshall (Intervals), and Mark Holcomb (Periphery). Violin performed by Yvette Young (Covet) and piano by Luke Martin further increase the musical breadth of the album, bringing jazzy and orchestral influences to the already diverse soundscapes of down-tuned electric guitars, lyrical leads, and celestial synths.
The sense of a journey is further explored in the second disc of the album in a 29 minute song divided into six parts, entitled The Andromedan. Conceptually, Sithu explains that this disc captures the story of an alien first seen by the cadets in the first disc’s opening track. He additionally notes that this disc is meant to be completely distinct from the rest of his work. Where almost every track on the first disc features a guest performance, Sithu uses solely his own prowess a composer, performer and producer to the fullest extent on this second disc. The first track “The Andromedan Pt I: A Single Step” is a piece that evokes comparison’s to Pink Floyd and Polyphia, with major key harmonies flitting over a spacey, acoustic led composition. With a more open and reflective atmosphere, this 29 minute opus finds Sithu exploring textures often absent from the genre, with Eastern influences smoothly transitioning into clean harmonies. With his past releases establishing his credibility as a guitarist, Sithu seems to have focused his energy on the flowing melodicism of his arrangements to great effect.
Though I often find myself bored by instrumental albums, Sithu’s Set Course for Andromeda is a strong exception. Despite a nearly eighty minute run time, this diverse body of music intrigues me as a listener and musician, with every element of the album delivered with an air of humility and humor, but also intention. From his cartoon artwork to his entertaining concepts, Sithu’s work feels accessible despite its depth and precision, making for an album that is cohesive without being overburdened by pretense. It says something that, even without lyrics, Sithu conveys the arc of an epic story in the second disc, evoking tension, hope, loss and optimism with only his guitar and skills as a composer. This release is the first since Sithu Aye left his work as a technology consultant to pursue music full-time, and his dedication is demonstrated to phenomenal effect on Set Course for Andromeda. Multi-faceted, fun, ambitious and accessible, this record sets the bar for guitarists and instrumental composers in the progressive community.
Notable Tracks: “Constants and Variables,” “Spiral,” “Beyond the Boundary,” “A Single Step.”
FFO: Intervals, Plini, Polyphia, Periphery, Jakub Zytecki.