Artist: Silent Skies

Album Title: Satellites

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 11 December 2020

A review of this album was about as inevitable as death and taxes quite frankly, so I suspect none of you are surprised to be reading this. Silent Skies is the new project between Evergrey’s Tom S. Englund and pianist Vikram Shankar, he of Lux Terminus and Redemption fame, amongst others. I am in awe of both from a musical and creative standpoint, because when it comes to writing and performing music, these two gentleman have more talent in their little fingers than I will ever have. In fact, forget little fingers, little fingernails might be more accurate. Or a single hair follicle.

And so, despite the fact that Silent Skies is predominantly an album of vocals and piano, with the occasional foray into something more cinematic, I had to take a listen. What follows is an honest appraisal of the music, regardless of the fact that I would, I hope not too presumptuously, call both of these chaps friends.

Admittedly, piano and vocal music wouldn’t normally be something that I’d be overly interested in. I do like classical music, soundtracks and film scores, but ‘Satellites’ is none of these. Not exclusively, anyway. It is a collection of songs that Tom and Vikram have composed together, utilising the skills of each to the very maximum. And when I talk of talent and skill, it is evident in abundance on ‘Satellites’.

The more I listen, the more enthralled and entranced I become. What started out as a listening experience that I admired and liked, has blossomed into something far stronger. This year has been tough for many of us on many levels and once it seeps into your mind and soul, this music makes a huge impact. It keys into something within me that resonates so strongly, that I find myself openly crying as I listen, with some songs crushingly powerful despite the lack of anything remotely resembling rock, let alone metal.

‘Solitude’ is possibly the greatest example on this record. It is a stunning composition in every way possible. The piano playing is delicate and conveys a fragility at its core, whilst the vocals from Tom are equally emotional too. His performance on this song and across the album as a whole does nothing to dissuade me from the feeling that his is my favourite voice ever. If anything, it only underlines why I love his style, his tones, his delivery…everything. The chorus is heart breaking in its beauty, led by some exquisite playing from Vikram, but there’s a quieter section that allows the sound of waves to permeate the melancholy, before the introduction of a deep, rich, yet equally sombre cello, the perfect accompaniment to the composition. It’s no good, I’m typing through tears again.

Mind you, the incredibly moving nature of the music should be no surprise, and the dye is cast in the first few seconds of the album’s opener, ‘Horizons’. The opening piano notes from the classically-trained virtuoso are tentative, mournful, brittle, but achingly beautiful. The touch and feel of Vikram is stunning, as are the hushed, introspective vocals of Tom when he joins his partner. At times, it’s like he is whispering, but the two artists in tandem keep you gripped as the composition builds into more cinematic territory, with orchestration and electronic embellishments swelling around them. The shifts in light and shade are pronounced, adding to a palpable sense of drama. The lone strings at the end that duet with the ivories whilst being wrapped in a rich cinematic blanket, are arresting and help to create the perfect end to a flawless piece of music.

It would be impossible to go into such detail about the remaining eight tracks, but suffice to say that there isn’t a wasted moment on ‘Satellites’, no let-up in the quality, no reprieve from the gloomy, desolate and incredibly touching music.

‘Endless’ is dominated more by Tom’s voice, with Vikram happy to play more of a supporting role here, albeit with deft of touch and mesmerising ability. It is also a more boldly cinematic piece, the kind of composition that you could imagine more as a full-on metal Evergrey song.

If Vikram Shankar’s abilities were ever in doubt, then ‘Us’ puts those ridiculous notions to bed. The sensitivity that he displays, particularly in the beautiful intro, but throughout, is something to behold. The emotions conveyed through such simplicity, even between the notes, demonstrates a true artist at work. But when things get more complex and intricate, they are delivered with such smoothness, it’s almost hypnotic, especially when combined with the atmospheric, cinematic electronics, and Tom’s electric performance. I also love the urgency and dramatic intent of the closing stages, drawing a few comparisons in my mind to the likes of the composer, Craig Armstrong.

I’ll be honest and admit to not being the biggest fan of Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. It’s not a style of music that does much for me. But the duo recreates ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ in a way that breathes new life into the song. It is much more stripped back, honest, and raw. As a result, it is incredibly compelling and magnetic, with the inclusion of what I can only describe as a fleeting, yet heart breaking solo violin for good measure.

Speaking of covers, fans of Evergrey will immediately recognise the opening dramatic notes of ‘Distance’, taken from their 2016 release, ‘The Storm Within’. As with ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’, it is a fascinating and engrossing re-working that emphasises the strength of the melodies that are contained within the song. If anything, the lyrics are even more poignant too. The drama that the cinematics, the cello, and most importantly Vikram, injects into the composition leaves me stunned. Vikram is able to break the shackles and blend his trademark deftness with something more powerful, if such a descriptor can be applied to a pianist. Lo and behold, I’m on the verge of tears once again. Oh who am I kidding, I’m typing through blurred vision for the millionth time; I can’t help it.

The final piece, is entitled ‘1999’. It is an instrumental that carries with it a melancholy befitting the remainder of the record, but equally, there’s a hint of hope, of positivity, of acceptance perhaps within the melodies. It’s a glorious way to end ‘Satellites’, possibly the perfect way.

When the album comes to an end, I don’t mind admitting that I am shattered. The emotions, the melancholy, the fragility, and the honesty all combine to stir a crescendo of feelings within me. The music is refined and majestic, but there’s a sadness that permeates over and above all else. This means that the experience might be too sombre for some. For me, however, it is damn near perfect. Music that can move the listener to such a great extent has to be special, and so I can only conclude that ‘Satellites’, the debut release from Silent Skies is a truly magical listening experience. Heart-wrenching, but utterly magical.

The Score of Much Metal: 97%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Countless Skies – Glow

Dark Tranquillity – Moment

My Dying Bride – Macabre Cabaret

Sólstafir – Endless Twilight Of Co-Dependent Love

Communic – Hiding From The World

Wolverine – A Darkened Sun

Avandra – Skylighting

Pyramaze – Epitaph

Necrophobic – Dawn Of The Damned

Fates Warning – Long Day Good Night

Draconian – Under A Godless Veil

Mörk Gryning – Hinsides Vrede

DGM – Tragic Separation

Perduratum – Exile’s Anthology

Carcass – Despicable EP

Mors Principium Est – Seven

Cult Of Lilith – Mara

Helion Prime – Question Everything

Soul Secret – Blue Light Cage

Enslaved – Utgard

Dynfari – Myrkurs er þörf

Amaranthe – Manifest

Kataklysm – Unconquered

Structural Disorder – Kingdom Crossing

Skeletal Remains – The Entombment Of Chaos

Prehistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter One)

Ihsahn – Pharos

Hinayana – Death Of The Cosmic
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber
Okyr – Premorbid Intelligence
Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live
Pain Of Salvation – Panther
Vanishing Point – Dead Elysium
Unleash The Archers – Abyss
Veonity – Sorrows
Nyktophobia – What Lasts Forever
Ages – Uncrown
Awake By Design – Awake By Design
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews