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Silent Skies Shows Growth With Deeply Personal 3rd Album Dormant

Greatness sometimes slips up on you unexpectedly. Silent Skies proves that. You may go into this album expecting a gossamer-thin song cycle that amounts to little more than well-produced Muzak. You’re mind will be changed from that notion from the first song: There’s something else going on here. Tom Englund and Vikram Shankar, a Swede and American-based pianist/composer respectively, enjoy a level of creative synergy that few other musical partnerships ever attain. They are stalwart members of other acts, Englund with Evergrey, while Shankar plays an important role in projects such as Redemption and Lux Terminus. Different facets of their personality and skill emerge over the course of Dormants thirteen songs.

It’s their third album under this name and it shows growth over previous releases Nectar (2022) and Satellites (2020). “Construct” is the first evidence that Shankar and Englund have tied the promising strands of Silent Skies’ prior projects together in a vivid and brilliant tapestry that exceeds what have come before it. Their ambient atmospherics might meander in the hands of lesser talents, but Silent Skies directs the arrangement with alert urgency. Englund’s vocals hit more like personal testimony rather than mere singing.

That attribute elevates the second track “New Life”. Shankar answers with mesmerizing piano work that stays neck and neck with Englund’s vocals vying for the listener’s focus. It’s one of Dormant’s complete packages. It’s notable, as well, how the duo makes such an impact without ever belaboring their songs. “Churches” has deep emotional resonance and has a man-in-the-mirror moment of trying to understand love gone wrong. “Just Above the Clouds” has a bit of a spiritual tone, speaking about rising above the fear, noise and violence of this world.  It’s an electronic pop symphony in miniature further strengthened by an especially uplifting Englund vocal. He traverses greater emotional heights here than elsewhere on the album; this is no small thing.

He ups the ante even more with “Reset”. The irresistible longing aglow in the heart of this sort is its marquee element, but Shankar buttresses that yearning with a complementary musical arrangement that fleshes out the full range of the song’s desire. It’s an involving and intelligent piece that, like the rest of the album, doesn’t exhaust its possibilities with a single listen. “The Real Me” continues leaning on presumably autobiographical songwriting for its artistry. It’s never obscure, however. Englund’s writing taps into universal experiences while culling its reflections from the pages of his life. It’s a skilled balancing act that reaches another zenith with this cut.

The singer/songwriter slant of this collection may get lost in the light of its brilliant sonic sheen. Songs such as “Light Up the Dark”, however, are unmistakable examples from this songwriting school, particularly in their reliance on a first-person point of view. His gratitude for the song’s subject and their transformative effect on his present and future practically throbs with romance, but never in trite juvenile fashion. It’s as sophisticated and demanding, both lyrically and musically, as any song included on Dormant.

The final song, sans bonus tracks, is “The Last on Earth”. Thunderous percussion isn’t omnipresent during the track, but it makes an enormous difference when it makes its presence felt. Quasi-symphonic ambitions are apparent once again and juxtaposing it against another outstanding lyric and vocal makes for a jaw-dropping finale. Silent Skies’ third album Dormant, by any definition, qualifies as a work of art. 

Mindy McCall



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