Some collaborations can be arbitrary and meaningless. Born of boredom and the absence of purpose. But some transcend this trope, feeling like fateful encounters. For fans, it can offer a new perspective or another place to get lost in. Like watching a sliver of snow slip slowly down a windowpane. Silent Skies is such an encounter. Comprised of Evergrey vocalist, Tom S. Englund, as well as a piano virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar, Silent Skies is no mere side project designed to scratch the lockdown itch. Set to release their luminescent sophomore, ‘Nectar’ on February 4 with Napalm Records, this impressive duo serve up a unique, otherworldly affair.
Throughout ‘Nectar’, listeners are treated to the best of both worlds as delicate, cinematic instrumentals culminate alongside haunting, tortured vocals. An elegant balance attempted by many and failed by even more. “Neverending” finds Englund knee-deep in metaphor and simile as he offers up imagery of walking into a storm where rain falls like lead on his shoulders. The weight behind the track textures the picture he paints beautifully. As is always the case with Englund, his memorable lyrics are never without a stunning vocal performance behind them.
The vast majority of ‘Nectar’ finds Englund in a refined, relaxed, storytelling mode, lending itself to the tone of the album. Yet “Let it Hurt” sees the singer stepping outside of this to play with a higher range, emoting a richer sense of light in the dark. As does “Leaving”, with its powerful vocal harmonies, graceful string performances by Leporus’ cello player Raphael Weinroth-Browne, who guests throughout much of the record, and sustained, single piano notes that ring out to some far-off place, leaving listeners with sparks of hope to hold on to.
If Englund’s performance is intentionally understated, what Vikram Shankar brings is simply undeniable. Soulful, ethereal, and quintessential melancholy, Shankar’s performance could make even the broodiest Max Richter piece sound like it was written for Disney. The album’s opening moments in “Fallen from Heart”, sonically depict Shankar entering a room steeped in silence and sitting at his instrument before he begins to weave a distinctive, at times purposefully destructive tapestry. One heard across ‘Nectar’, harmonizing alongside Englund’s vocals in the heartbreaking “Cold”, leading the listener out in the album-titled closing number. An instrumental which concludes where this journey began, as Shakram trails off-key, stewing in the final missed notes of the composition before leaving his instrument behind, closing the door behind him as it all comes to an uncomfortable, but perfect end.
Laced with tender instrumentation, yearning vocals, and complemented by deeply rich lyricism, ‘Nectar’ sounds and feels like a truly special occasion. Combining gloomy ambience with some dramatically, pop-influenced arrangements that could usher in the first light of day, the impact is immense and long-lasting. A fruitful and touching collaboration we can only hope to hear much, much more from.