Rohan Sharma – 18
Rohan Sharma is an 18 year old Australian keyboardist and composer who recently dropped a total bomb of a debut album, titled ‘18’. I find it impressive when someone manages to come up with something as stellar and refreshing as this for a debut release, let alone at such a young age. This sounds like a professional piece of art that could easily top many albums from well-established prog bands and artists. It’s consistent throughout its entire duration and incredibly engaging all the way through.
Since the brain behind this music is a keyboardist, it was pretty much expected that there would be a lot of emphasis on keyboards on the record. He seems to draw a lot from Jordan Ruddess playing style as far as the tones he chooses are concerned as well as the ridiculously fast runs. He is a total show-off in the best way possible. However, while I find that to be a valid comparison regarding his playing style, the musical direction plays in a totally different spectrum than that of Dream Theater. ‘18’ is an instrumental piece of progressive djent that most easily resembles the likes of Intervals, Plini or Periphery. The sound is very full, bombastic and well-rounded to bring forward all the shining details of the instrumental wizardry that’s going on in full splendor. I assume the drums are programmed as there is no drummer mentioned in the line-up but they are very well thought out, dynamic, hooky and groovy, creating a solid and cleverly structured rhythmic backbone for the shreddy tech-fests to unfold. On the guitar we have Rahul Sharma (a family member I suppose) who greets us with a lot of sliced typical djent style riffing, often putting a lot emphasis on the groove and energetic, bouncy feel. While the riffs are not the main star of this record, they are essential in creating the powerful sound of the music all the way through, and a pleasure to listen to when looked at in finer detail. But then we get to what really makes this album stand-out. You guessed it, it’s a total tech-fest.
As previously mentioned, Rohan’s keyboard playing is nothing short of stellar. The level of mastery over his instrument leaves no room for criticism, but despite being a maniac in that field, he always keeps his solo parts (and there’s a lot of them) well connected to the instrumental background and somehow very infectious and fun to hear. The speed and ridiculous pitch bends that he puts on display rather enhance the energy of the music as opposed to making it feel like a math lesson. And the fact that no musical idea overstays its welcome is what keeps you constantly hooked on what comes next. It’s hooky but at the same time complex, spontaneous and unpredictable. However, in order to not show off all on his own, Rohan managed to gather some absolutely stellar prog musicians to play guest solos on this album, which makes it feel as interactive and alive as instrumental music can get. And there are also some vocal appearances to change that around just about enough. Among the prog army on display here we find Haken’s Richard Henshall on ‘Badassery’, Lucas de la Rosa on ‘Carnival’, Alain Ibrahim on ‘Hi School’ and Victor Hernandez on ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’.
One thing we can conclude at this point. The level of tech-show-off on this album might just challenge John Petrucci to a shred showdown. But there’s more to it than speed. The album is actually quite heartfelt when it comes to vibes. Songs like ‘New Ringtone’ or ‘Hi School’ present more of a carefree groovy vibe with smooth jazz influences coming to the forefront and a more moderate tempo sinking in. And even the fast and heavy stuff rather carries a jolly playful tone that just makes you happy. There are even some pretty epic orchestral touches making their way in. What could otherwise have been a repetitive djent album has grown into a multi-faceted piece of creativity and emotion. As a highlight, I must mention the violin by Charlie McCarthy and the overall jazz, bluesy feel in ‘La Nouvelle Fille’ as it just takes me to a touristy street somewhere around Paris (never been but I get the vibe). That’s a song that paints images without words. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that smooth acoustic guitar moment in ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ that so subtly brings some serenity into the maelstrom of melodic madness that is that song? ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ on its own ticks the last boxes that were still not filled for this album as far as prog goes: vocals and a track length in the double digits. Clocking in at just over ten minutes, this is where all the elements on the album come together. From melodic stuff to jazzy stuff, electronic elements, clean calming pauses and both clean and harsh vocals from Thomas Cucé (who also makes an appearance on ‘Carnival’), this song really rounds everything up. And if that wasn’t enough, it tops it off with a dash of properly nasty, sniffy face inducing riffs and a seriously sick breakdown, closing the album on a bang.
With a full run-time of just under 40 minutes, “18” is pretty much as compact, fun and overall solid as a nerdy prog record could get. It is charismatic, technical, challenging yet hooky and it breathes life into each note despite the otherwise very processed sound. To anyone fond of the modern prog-djent style, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. You’re in for a real treat!
- Alone (04:07)
- Hi School (03:30)
- La Nouvelle Fille (04:25)
- Carnival (04:28)
- 1+8=18 (01:52)
- Badassery (07:15)
- Playtime (03:50)
- Jigsaw Puzzle (10:17)