Christopher Har V – Life Cycle Review
Christopher Har V’s songs struck me with their heavy ambient focus despite being prog metal compositions. His single-handedly composed, recorded and produced EP “Life Cycle,” released on 14 May 2020, is more so than the other 2. His previous EP was highly technical and energetic, whereas this one seems more focused on atmosphere and melody. According to the description on his YouTube video, he composed this one “from the heart” instead of “the mind.” Each track on the EP has the feeling of the 4 main elements: water, fire, earth, and wind. “One Moment” starts with a 2-note acoustic guitar riff and continues with a very soft keyboard sound in the background, both of which sound like water drops. “The Point of the Journey” represents life in a bell-curve progression, – starting out mellowly like childhood, growing up with the increasing tempo, and ending with a fade-out symbolizing old age and death – like a fire starting and dying out. The atmospheric choices in “Earthen” create an all-encompassing vibe, a feeling of being fully surrounded. “Understood” can easily generate the feeling of wind (and thunder as the song moves on) with a huge layer of guitars with a bunch of chorus on. The song is absolutely devastating, with a simple chord progression looping through the whole song, getting increasingly intense with each loop. The 4 tracks are filled to the brim with instrumental symbolism that takes the listener through a complete life cycle. The songs tell a story that we are all too familiar with, so familiar that it doesn’t need words.
1. One Moment (6:40)
The EP opens with a guitar riff composed of four 2-notes merging into one concrete melody over time. It is rather a slow way to start a song, but since this is the first track on the record, it gives the listener enough time to get used to the sound of the artist. In Christopher Har V’s case, this sound consists mainly of guitars and showcases a keen inclination towards melody. Although during the buildup, you can somewhat deduce (because of the overall silence in this section) that the drums aren’t actually recorded live, it is quickly forgiven as this project is a one-man effort that deserves our compliments in any case.
The buildup, which by now layered multiple guitars and percussion parts, is quick, and also unexpectedly, resolved into a 7/8 section that once again feels like a buildup on its own. This sudden change increases our anticipation for some kind of resolution even though the song still carries a calm feeling. This resolution finally arrives around the 2-minute mark where an electric guitar and a synthesizer pierces through the calmness. There isn’t much effort to introduce the synth but after arriving, it certainly makes the song more than “another prog guitar song”. In one-man bands, you can usually hear one instrument take over as it’s the main instrument of the musician, so for Christopher Har V, by incorporating more of other instruments, he could separate himself from this music scene.
The song mainly builds upon the theme that was introduced at the beginning and some variations of it. He manages to keep the song grounded by this technique, but even if he took the song to other musical realms by differentiating the theme even further, we as the listener wouldn’t leave him alone on this path because of the firm foundation that he builds earlier. And there is proof that Christopher himself deliberate on this potential of the song around after the 4-minute mark.
The final heavy section features a synth playing the main theme of the song (which sounds more and more like water drops) over the guitars. The song ends with how it started, creating a bookmark effect that makes you reflect upon the title of the track: ‘One Moment’. It’s always fun to guess how the artist came up with the name when there is an instrumental song, especially prog. In this case, the main theme could symbolize a single moment in time where it flows within itself but looks singular and constant from the outside.
2. The Point of the Journey (6:57)
“The Point of the Journey” is the answer to the EP’s name “Life Cycle.” With its 4 staged structure, this song resembles a “life cycle” that consists of four parts: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. The song describes this journey with its 4 unique parts with 4 different keys. Every part carries a resembling to the era of life with its features.
Childhood starts with a soft and delicate guitar melody. This is the first key in the journey of life. It is peaceful, optimistic, and full of life. Reverb guitar’s tone really fits with the mood of this part and later, accompanied by lively bass, they create a serene environment. It gets more developed with drums and distortion guitar to symbolize the more energetic part of childhood. It gets a build-up for its release in adolescence.
Adolescence, the second key, is a stepping stone from childhood to adulthood both in real life and in the song. It is a combination of thick and grooving bass and drums though still having a childish and romantic guitar solo in it. Similar to teens, this part is full of romance and excitement. It is definitely harsher than childhood but it still has its hopeful roots. It loops to a different version of the childhood part. Now it is not that peaceful but instead, it is distorted, showing the loss of childhood innocence.
Adulthood enters hard. The listener sees the harsh reality that was glimpsed in puberty now cranked to 11. The guitar solo is not romantic, it is focused, heavy, and steadfast. This metal part shows both sides of adulthood. It is both powerful and disturbing. Just like adulthood, a person is fully in charge of its life and they have the power to do what they want. However, with approaching adulthood, a person can never taste the sweet side of childhood again. They lost their innocence and this is shown in the song with the comparison of clean and distorted guitar.
Fast-paced adulthood ends, leaving its place to old age. Christopher has an optimistic view of old age. Even though it doesn’t have the energy of adulthood, it is still a high tempo and full of life. It has the somber feeling of death however it is not covered in melancholy. It is a circle of life and it is going back to the beginning. It is even hinted by using some parts of the childhood melody in the ending part of the song. The journey of life ends in a grand, emotional finale at an old age. Now “Life Cycle” can be considered complete.
3. Earthen (9:04)
You would expect a slow build-up from the longest song of the EP, as the way it should be. The melancholic atmospheres of the previous songs showed that it is a fingerprint of Chris, and the distinct characteristic tone is even more explored with the heavily reverbed guitar melodies’ duet with piano. A minute in the song, the drums manifest itself with little touches to the ride, as also it builds-up and resolves to an ethereal soundscape of distorted guitars.
After the intro part of the song, the tempo and the dynamics of the instruments constantly switch; especially the drums are the set tone for the post-intro part. One would want or wait to see a structure in a piece of instrumental music that would include interludes later on in the pieces – especially after we hear the most fundamental parts of the tracks. However, Chris instantly cuts through the sections that he has written with even smaller interludes from the beginning, using the dynamic changes which are mentioned – making his music structurally complex and intriguing.
Considering the way he wrote the songs, Chris wasn’t able to use the keyboards that would be the main instruments for the sections or pieces are built upon; since he isn’t keyboard player that would be able to compose like his guitar compositions. Nevertheless, he was able to fill up and tighten the guitar parts with the keyboard productions that he used throughout the EP – layering lots of different kinds of tone and voice choices and melodic use of the 70s influenced synth sounds.
Probably the hook of “Earthen” is the groovy guitar riff in the middle that is accompanied by the messy yet still well-structured drums syncopations. As it is the most obvious song that indicates the theme of itself and the whole EP, Earthen is representing the idea of element earth and also the feelings that come with the Jungian images of these elements. The messy and constantly changing structure of the song reminds the audience of the history of the world, from beginning to today: the bloody wars with heavy riffs, the renaissances with the soft sections, and everything in between which is a part of the constant changing world similar to the song.
4. Understood (6:35)
Understood is an absolute tear-jerker. Christopher started to write this song with his brother’s heroin addiction in mind. By the time the production was finished, he had died because of complications from his addiction. I can not begin to imagine how much of a pain this has caused for him, yet he was able to capture some of it in this song. The whole song consists of 6 chords, no other changes, no other keys. The background riff stays the same throughout. You can headbang through the whole song without noticing the odd time play. The first 3 chords are played in three 15/8 bars while the last 3 chords are played in one 17/8 bar. Every 2 bar completes each other into an even beat, which makes the odd time go unnoticed. The sameness seems to be a metaphor for the addiction, while the underlying oddness seems to be a metaphor for the underlying effects of the addiction that goes unnoticed by the addicted self. Many guitars play in unison behind the opening riff, with a main acoustic guitar, which creates the feeling of “wind” in the listener.
Everything switches to distortion for the solo in the middle. He says that he was influenced by Satriani for the solo, and by Meshuggah and Periphery for the rhythm. I also picked up a bit of Guthrie Govan and Petrucci with the slides and faster licks. In the final bits of the distorted middle section enter a very soft and simple melody played with the keyboard. Yet, the background rhythm is the heaviest it ever got in the song, full of the heavy metal breakdown energy. Christopher describes this by saying “it is this sonic fury of calmness, this immense anger that is completely devoid of hatred because it is enraptured in a sobering understanding.” The song thus returns back to its roots, the odd timed acoustic riff, and fades out with one of the two improvised parts in the album. The improvisation seems like a symbol of being at loss, not knowing what to do, fitting to the tragedy that inspired this song.