The music of Silent Skies, the collaborative project between Tom S. Englund, vocalist of Swedish progressive group Evergrey, and virtuoso classical pianist Vikram Shankar, feels at once lushly cinematic, warmly intimate, darkly melancholic and incandescently beautiful. It’s making is a story of a deep musical kinship between two seemingly divergent talents.
The pair first crossed paths when the Swedish singer saw American Oberlin film score graduate Shankar’s engrossingly sensitive piano interpretation of Evergrey’s Distance on YouTube: “I heard an instant musicality coming from him” Englund says: “he can take one chord and add one melody note and immediately you understand he has this deep musical knowledge.” He sensed in Shankar a kindred musical spirit who could help him channel new forms of musical expression. A series of email exchanges between the pair gave birth to ideas of a sonic landscape rooted in cinematic score music – what they both came to see as ‘films for the inner eye’.
As they began playing together it quickly became apparent that they shared profound musical common ground. Evergrey’s music had been a founding influence on the pianist after all: “They had a huge impact on the way my playing developed.” Shankar says: “Their musical and emotional language remains a critical component to the way I write and play music. Tom’s singing in particular has been very influential – my favourite way to play melodically is to emulate and channel the emotional impact of the human voice, and his has an impact unlike any other.”
The collaboration between Vikram and Tom actually seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I was aware of Vikram’s incredible talent from his amazing instrumental project Lux Terminus and, being a long term prog metal fan, was well aware of Tom Englund’s fantastic vocal talents from Evergrey and Redemption (Vikram actually played keyboards on the band’s last album). I wouldn’t have put them together on a project as lush and magical as Silent Skies but they work perfectly, complementing each other’s talents.
The album is grandiose and full of melodramatic music that would grace many Oscar winning films as a score and yet is overflowing with emotion, graceful in places and heartfelt in others. Tom Englund has a wonderfully emotive and touching vocal delivery that shows he is no one trick pony, his charismatic singing on this album is some of the best you will hear all year and in direct contrast to the bombast of the new Evergrey album recently announced and Vikram’s tender playing is absolutely note perfect, throughly deserving of the word ‘virtuoso’ and who doesn’t love the sound of a proper grand piano, it’s both nostalgic and thought provoking at the same time.
Listening to the album takes you to a place of ethereal calm, the wistful songs are touching and moving, elaborately theatrical tracks like Horizons and Endless pairing hauntingly classical music with a melodic sensibility. The stand out tracks on this release for me are Us and Solitude, both full of an intense melancholic grace that you can feel in the tender rawness of Tom’s vocal and the stunningly sublime, exquisite and yet simple piano playing that feels like an extension of Vikram’s own soul.
The cover of Eurythmics’ 1983 hit Here Comes The Rain Again fits perfectly with the rest of the music and, being a child of the 1980’s, fills me with huge feeling of nostalgia and a wry grin on my face and the celestial instrumental 1999 closes out the album in style.
In this year where we have all been touched by the horrific effects of the pandemic, Vikram and Tom have given us something quite magical, an ultimately uplifting collection of beautiful songs that leave a lasting touch on our hearts and souls. ‘Satellites’ gives a feeling of hope and calm reflection that we can take into 2021 and will leave you with a smile on your face and love in your heart.
This release has jumped straight into my top 5 of the year, in fact, I love it that much I have just bought the vinyl…
Released 11th December 2020
Order from EMP in the UK here: