Artist: Silent Skies
Album Title: Nectar
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 2022
I desperately wanted to dislike this album.
This might sound like an odd revelation with which to commence an album review, but it’s true. Ever since I started manofmuchmetal.com, I have made no secret of my love for Evergrey, happily stating that I am a fanboy. There’s no getting away from it, it’s the truth. It has led to accusations from certain quarters that maybe I’m not as objective as I could be when Evergrey, or any of the musicians involved with that band are concerned. Given that Silent Skies is the musical adventure created by the duo of Vikram Shankar (Redemption) and Evergrey’s vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, Tom S. Englund, this review of their sophomore album, ‘Nectar’, would present me with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate objectivity by giving a less than favourable review if I didn’t honestly like it. So, in many ways, I desperately wanted to dislike it.
Unfortunately for me and for those lingering questions about my objectivity, I have to be completely honest; ‘Nectar’ is a stunning release. It features Vikram Shankar and Tom Englund, as a duo, creating atmospheric, cinematic, and minimalist soundscapes. So how on Earth could it not be good? Vikram Shankar is a musician like no other; he has that devastating ability to be both technically gifted and incredibly sensitive, especially when playing the piano, imbuing everything he plays with emotion and feeling. And then there’s Tom Englund who is blessed with a voice that’s unique and powerful, carrying with it an equal amount of emotion as his partner in Silent Skies. Laying down his guitar, Tom has the opportunity here to plough one hundred per cent of his efforts into his singing, which he seems to relish based on the end result.
At this point, I will be totally honest with you all and declare that as good as ‘Nectar’ is, I have found much of it very difficult to listen to. As always, and in keeping with the debut, ‘Satellites’, Tom and Vikram have not shied away from creating a record that’s incredibly raw, laced with human fragility and at times, brutal honesty. It is an intensely emotional listen at the best of times, but when you’re suffering with your own demons, the intensity and emotion can almost be too much to bear. Especially so when some of the lyrical content feels like it was plucked from my own mind and given voice. Take ‘Taper’ for example:
“Sometimes my presence won’t hold,
I feel like I can’t breathe,
feels like I’ve lost control.
‘Cause my heart is too old,
but my soul is too young.
It’s getting harder and harder,
and I can’t hold on much longer.
I feel this heart’s too cold,
yet the world is much colder,
and it’s getting harder,
I can’t hold on much longer.”
These words pierce my heart every single time I hear them. This is me. It’s so me. And were it not for my family and my little girls, I wonder whether I’d have the strength to hold on any longer. But I will. For them. In a way, the fact that this sentiment is also coming from a third party, it gives me some measure of comfort, knowing that maybe I’m not alone.
But it’s not just the words of this song that move me to tears, it’s the lyrics combined with the minimalist soundscape created by Vikram Shankar, a blend of piano notes, subtle electronics and sorrowful strings towards the end. The melodies are simple, delicate, and beautiful, given flight by the most talented and dedicated of musicians.
Another hauntingly difficult song to listen to for me is ‘Let It Hurt’. As the title suggests, Englund almost pleads in anguish when he sings the line “Let it hurt, let the pain come…” within arguably the most moving and utterly beguiling of choruses to feature on ‘Nectar’. Given the melodies and the sentiment expressed across the album as a whole, this is no mean feat. But Tom gives a breathtaking performance, full of poise, delicacy and emotion, once again singing words that have been spinning around my head for days, weeks, and months.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, as tracks like ‘Neverending’ and ‘The One’ ably demonstrate. The former, which builds from humble beginnings to unfurl with rousing cinematic splendour contains the positive sentiment that’s ‘but I believe that better days will come’. The latter, led by another delicate and tender piano melody, actually sees Tom opening up and singing about someone special, an open love letter of sorts.
“I know now that I’ll never feel alone again,
‘cause through the darkness I felt the sun,
and when I sensed that I’d never be on my own again,
that’s when I knew you were the one”
Ironically, when your own deep well of sadness comes from the fact that you have lost that special person in your own life, ‘The One’ is almost as deeply emotional a listen as ‘Taper’. I’m only halfway through the album and yet I have been put through the ringer. And that’s without even mentioning the opening track, ‘Fallen From Heart’, which is every bit as gorgeous as what follows, setting the tone perfectly in the process.
But onwards I stride and ‘Leaving’ is my immediate prize. It is a much bolder and more dramatic cinematic composition, featuring a greater use of electronics alongside strings and piano. It is also one of my personal favourites thanks to the combination of drama and a really strong melodic hook within the chorus that gives me shivers.
‘Cold’ follows and it continues along the path of its predecessor in that it is a more cinematic piece, albeit dark and foreboding in tone. It is also one of the very best performances from Englund; his delivery is captivating, lacing the song with a plethora of differing emotions; frustration, despondency, longing, and even hope all feature within this striking composition.
As we near the end of ‘Nectar’, I love the way that the song ‘Closer’ draws to a conclusion. It’s a wonderful composition throughout, but it’s the last time you get to hear Englund sing on the album. As such, it’s a very clever and fitting touch the way that the instrumentation slowly ebbs away so that the last thing you hear before the track finishes is Tom’s words, and nothing else. It’s small touches like this that demonstrate the attention to detail, the love, and the care that has so clearly gone into creating this album.
And so it is left to Vikram to see out ‘Nectar’ with the title track. In typical Shankar fashion, the touch is deft, the feeling is palpable, and we’re treated to a final instrumental that perfectly sums up the pianist’s skill in saying so much, so eloquently, with so few notes and with effortless grace. That last point is utterly deceptive, however; it may appear effortless, but nothing could be further from the truth in reality, every note pored over in minute detail to get it just right.
As I said at the outset, I so wanted to dislike ‘Nectar’. But I cannot. It is a record that is lovingly crafted, professionally executed, and stunningly beautiful from start to finish. It may not be the easiest collection of songs to listen to at times, but it is definitely one of the most rewarding thanks to the depth of feeling that the music conveys. In a day and age where more and more music is soulless, cynical, and mass-produced for an ever-more throw-away society, it is heart warming to know that there are musicians out there that still give a damn, and who understand that honesty and emotion should always be important ingredients within music. On that score, there are few better than Silent Skies who, with ‘Nectar’, have perhaps made me realise that I need to add music to the list of reasons, alongside my family and my daughters, as to why I should hold on to life as long as possible.
The Score of Much Metal: 97%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: