Good music is good music, regardless of the distortion on the guitars or lack thereof – this has always been my credo. While I do have an affinity towards metal music, I do occasionally enjoy the quieter and more serene type of music, like acoustic or even ambient/atmospheric. This brings us to SILENT SKIES and their sophomore album, “Nectar,” to be released on February 4th, 2022, via Napalm Records. For some reason I skipped their debut, “Satellites,” but I am not making that mistake twice.
The partnership between Vikram Shankar and Tom Englund (EVERGREY) seems to have been made in music heaven, as the sonic worlds these two talented artists create together are fifty shades of emotional and deeply immersive. On the one hand, you have a singer who has spent a lifetime creating soulful songs and mesmerizing audiences across the globe with his heartfelt vocals and candid lyrics. On the other hand, you have an extremely gifted piano player and composer whose magic touch conjures up moods, textures, and nuances that give depth and color to the songs. Add to the mix some dramatic cello lines from Raphael Weinroth-Browne (LEPROUS) and you have a recipe for an assault on the senses, in the best possible way. This is the type of music that you let wash over yourself while you go with the flow and experiment with moods, ranging from melancholy and wistfulness to daydreaming and introspection. A word of advice: listen to this album with headphones so you can better hear all the vocal layers and melodies that swirl around in the background.
Under the flag of such labels as “cinematic,” “ambient,” and “atmospheric,” SILENT SKIES manage to create songs that have not just beautiful melodic backbones and deep emotional cores, but also personalities of their own. When composing songs with a bare minimum of instrumentation, it is easy to follow the same pattern and run in circles with the same ideas. However, this is where the creative genius of both Vikram Shankar and Tom Englund come into play, as each of the ten soulful songs on “Nectar” can stand on their own legs as separate entities with different stories to tell about the human experiences that are as personal as they are universal. The two singles released thus far – “Taper” and “Leaving” – already showcase how broad of a sonic palette they are working with. Where “Taper” feels delicate, light, bright, and airy, “Leaving” is has a darker ambiance because of the bass synth, with a touch of the well-known Scandinavian melancholy feel. What is also interesting is how the vocals juxtapose the music – they get lighter when the music is darker and heavier on the bass/cello and they get darker when it’s just piano and light orchestration. This, in itself, is a neat dynamic to play around with, as well as one of the album’s fortés.
In songs like “Let It Hurt” or “Closer,” there’s a fragility and vulnerability that only Englund can emote, wonderfully supported by haunting piano melodies, cello accents, and delicate ambiance that let the songs unfold in a symphony of vocals and melodies. On the lighter side of things, “Neverending” is as calm and serene as the sea on a beautiful summer day, and almost emanates a glowing warmth. To counterbalance this, “The One” feels like a romantic walk in the moonlight during a calm autumn night, with a slight chill in the air because of the dramatic tone set by the cello. In the same fashion, “Cold” brings a winter breeze thanks to the vocals, strings, synths, and subtle electronic twirls. Another of the album’s strengths resides in the fact that some of the tracks like, for instance, “Fallen from Heart,” “Leaving,” or “Better Days,” have a delicate crescendo that mimics the build-up in intensity that we get in metal tracks. It’s a wonderful feeling to get wrapped up in that musical tide coming in higher and higher, only to crash on the shore leaving behind lots of foam. Rounding up everything, instrumental piece “Nectar” closes the album on ethereal piano notes that work like an echo coming back into focus every few seconds. I never thought that the adjective “poetic” can be applied to music but these songs can truly be described as poetic, outside of the deep-reaching lyricism.
When APOCALYPTICA released “Cell-0” (2020), I was dazzled by the sonic universe those Finns managed to create, a universe that won’t unravel itself in the absence of lyrics and vocals, as the notes provide the listener with emotions and melodies galore. Now again I am fascinated by what SILENT SKIES have created using only piano and vocals as the main ingredients, sprinkling in cello, synthesizers, and electronics to add in different flavors and moods. While the songs may seem simple on paper, they are actually quite complex, lush, and ornate, as there are many layers of orchestration underneath the main instruments so as to make everything feel dense and robust. Thanks to the excellent mastering of Jacob Hansen, you can hear every subtle movement of the music, every detail, every subdued melody or faint percussion, and get immersed ever deeper into the otherworldly aural experience that is SILENT SKIES. “Nectar” is a breathtakingly beautiful album that deserves your undivided attention – do not miss out on it!
Written by Andrea Crow
Fallen From Heart
Let It Hurt
Tom S. Englund – Vocals, Production
Vikram Shankar – Piano, Keyboards, Production