20 December 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: SILENT SKIES – ‘SATELLITES’

I delve once more into the review pile to look for something not necessarily metal to review for the esteemed rock and metal website that is MMH. This time my ears and mind have the task of assimilating Silent Skies with their debut album ‘Satellites’. Silent Skies is a collaborative project between Tom S. Englund, vocalist of Swedish progressive group Evergrey, and classical pianist Vikram Shankar. It seems the pair first crossed paths when Englund saw Shankar’s piano interpretation of Evergrey’s Distance on YouTube. An exchange of emails allowed the project to come to fruition in the form of this, their first release.

The words ‘atmospheric’ and ‘soundtrack’ were the bait that lured me in to investigating this release, having had no previous knowledge of either side of the collaboration. With due diligence I corrected this by listening to the heavy prog of Evergrey and the various endeavours of Shankar, so as to be suitably placed to understand ‘Satellites’.

Piano and voice understandably take equal portions of centre stage throughout, though there are frequent embellishments throughout to further assist the impact of the compositions. If you are looking for any form of traditional heaviness then you will need to look elsewhere, for this is a chilled and often melancholic effort. I am a frequent listener of piano music and often use the instrument in my own work. Here, on ‘Satellites’, the piano sounds delicious, wonderfully recorded, with particular attention to capturing all the nuance of the performance including the human interaction with instrument and room. It does sound lush and deeply atmospheric and it is impossible to find fault with the production. The music for piano and other instrumentation is composed intricately with emotion and technical aplomb, and I urge any listener to immerse themselves in the songs presented here to fully appreciate the craft at work.

‘Satellites’ is an album filled with torch songs, songs that would evoke the holding up of arms and swaying of lighters/mobile phones at a gig, songs that show vulnerability and emotion.

This is the point of review that I have to ‘fess up’ and admit that the vocals by Englund are not to my taste, preferring as I do gravelly croons dragged up from the depths or banshee noise rock wails. This is not to say I can find fault with them in any way. Indeed, I cannot doubt the ability of Englund as a strong and accomplished singer, and it is clear that his heart and soul are channelled through his vocal chords, it is merely a matter of personal taste. Safe to say though, is that if you enjoy his voice as part of the Evergrey sound then you will enjoy it more here, as once again, the recording and production truly allow the vocals space to live and breathe, balancing perfectly with the piano.

All of the compositions have a cinematic feel, ebbing and flowing with feeling and using varying dynamics to great effect. Where the piano provides mood and impetus, the voice adds soul and focus. Opening track ‘Horizons’ is as good an example as any. A sombre opening motif and voice give way to a playful flurry of notes that grab the attention before once again returning to underpin Englund’s voice. This to and fro demonstrates the dance that these two have mastered, allowing each other space to shine and working to each other’s strengths. Additional percussion and strings add additional weight as the song progresses and the end result is the delivery of quite the emotional punch.  Elsewhere ‘Dreams’ soars with an emotive momentum and flow and tis track brought to mind that this track, and many others here, would stand tall performed  with a full band. The fact that they stand just as tall with one instrument and one voice is testament to the strength of the compositions.

My favourite song on the album is ‘Us’, with its haunting piano hook forming part of a brewing storm of power and atmosphere. At key points the listener is allowed time to pause before the pair once more combine to fill the soundfield and the senses. The main reason this rises to the top of the pile for me though is that this is the song that really allowed me to engross myself  in the depth and breadth of the composition. I’d also be remiss not to mention the sole cover version presented here, an introspective take on one of my loved songs of the 1980, ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ by Eurythmics. Stripped of the urgent and insistent synths and rhythms of the original the song sounds entirely more intimate and personal. I will always hold the original aloft but the Silent Skies interpretation is entirely valid.

So this brings me to my conclusions. ‘Satellites’ is an album filled with torch songs, songs that would evoke the holding up of arms and swaying of lighters/mobile phones at a gig, songs that show vulnerability and emotion. To these ears it is a Sunday afternoon album, one to settle back and be immersed in. With the due attention it is an album that will reward those whose minds are open enough to embrace the songs presented here even if they aren’t driven home by guitars channelled through walls of amplifiers.