Review – Silent Skies – Satellites

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:

https://www.emp.co.uk/search?q=Silent+Skies

Review – Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day – by Progradar

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! L.A. based prog metallers Redemption return with a supremely impressive example of the genre – ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’.

Taking the title of Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which focuses on the decay of a family that’s plagued by addiction, Redemption have turned it inside out, and made it their own.

Inverting the phrasing of the title is really what Redemption’s message is about.”, says founder guitarist/keyboardist Nick van Dyk, “It’s a long night. It’s a journey, and at times it’s a struggle. But there is daybreak.

He goes on to say, “If there’s a consistent message to Redemption’s music, it’s that life is a struggle and there is pain and fear and doubt, but, ultimately, it is a thing of beauty and wonderment. If you push through the struggle, the rewards of that process itself, along with what you find on the other side, are joyous and a fantastic gift.”

With the band – rounded out by bassist Sean Andrews and drummer Chris Quirarte – parting company with vocalist Ray Adler (ex Fates Warning), they had to bring someone in who could fit some very large shoes and Tom Englund of Evergrey certainly fits that bill!

Absent from the band’s lineup is lead guitarist Bernie Versailles, who suffered an aneurysm in 2014, and has since been focusing on his recovery. ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’ does however see the quartet collaborating with guitarists Simone Mularoni (DGM/Empyrios), and the legendary Chris Poland, both of whom also supplied astounding leads on ‘The Art Of Loss’. Alongside these longtime collaborators they also recruited keyboardist Vikram Shankar, who van Dyk asserts “may be the most talented musician I have ever met.”

Legendary prog metal contempories Dream Theater are due to return with a new album in 2018 and after the general disappointment of ‘The Awakening’, they are really going to have to come up with something to upstage this sixty-five minute behemoth of twin guitar brilliance, thunderous rhythm section and astounding vocal performance from Englund.

It’s easy to say that there isn’t a duff track on an album but, for fans of the band (and prog-metal in general), it’s most certainly true of ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’. It’s a well thought out collection of tracks dealing with themes of recovering from failure, dealing with the end of a chapter in our lives, coming to terms with one’s mortality or experiencing a betrayal and struggling through its impact.

The mountain crushing riffing and energetic rhythm section are aided and abetted by fantastic keyboards and Englund relates tales of adaptation (Impermanent), doubts that fill the void when one’s integrity is lacking (Eyes You Dare Not face In Dreams), living life to the fullest, no matter how hard it can be (Indulge in Colour) and the superb title track of which van Dyk says, “We see a lot of dreams and hoped-for-outcomes dashed by our own failings or by factors outside our control, but dreaming is essential to realizing the beauty of life. Life is amazing and depressing and carefree and terrifying and full of hope and love and full of fear and doubt…But it is, in the final calculus, beautiful and an incredible gift. And we must keep on dreaming.

The consummate skill of the musicians shines though on every track, the twin virtuoso guitar skills of Mularoni and Poland have to be heard to be believed and the rhythm section of Andrews and Quirarte really do move mountains. However, it’s not all about power and energy, the expertise and passion flows throughout.

There’s nothing new here but what you do get is progressive metal created and delivered at its absolute best, a band surely at the top of its game and looking like they are there to stay for a very long time. Bring on the challengers!

Released 27th July 2018

Order the album in all formats at Metalblade here