Evergrey frontman Tom S. Englund must be one of the busiest men in music. Not only does he lead the magnificent Gothenburg Prog Metallers but also has sung for the L.A. based Redemption since 2017, along with numerous contributions to a myriad of other bands.
Now he emerges with this side project that sees him joining with virtuoso classical pianist Vikram Shankar for one of the most beautiful and seductively shimmering releases of 2020.
Silent Skies – Satellites (A Sweet Lemon)
Release Date: 11 December 2020
Words: Paul Monkhouse
In a marriage made in Heaven, the two artists combine talents that sees Englund’s distinctive vocals and Shankar’s quicksilver fingers weave a tapestry of sound that, at times, is a delicate as gossamer but at others as dark and strong as a mighty tempest.
Brilliantly cinematic, this is an album to truly get lost in as heartbreak is balanced with hope and huge themes seen in very intimate ways.
Best enjoyed in the warm embrace of headphones, the ten tracks that make up the album are the very definition of lush. That is not to say that they lack depth, because they certainly do and the mastery of those involved is breathtaking.
Here is something both hugely intelligent and yet incredibly accessible, eschewing highbrow virtuosity and, instead, more concerned with human connection.
From the delicate opening motif of ‘Horizons’ you are gently pulled into a staggeringly beautiful world, Englund’s rich voice coming in like a wave and then delicately dancing in amongst the piano and strings.
The bright skies turn from blues to greys as the coming storm appears on the horizon and makes its inexorable way nearer, awe inspiring and foreboding yet exhilarating. ‘Endless’ shares that widescreen glory, cinematically taking in huge vistas that affect the sense of vastness whilst at the same time tunneling down to the very centre of a childlike wonder that it inspires.
Each track paints a picture, be it the bleak Winter melancholy of ‘Dreams’, the incandescent ‘Us’ or ‘Oceans’ eerie and otherworldly pull down beneath the surface into watery landscapes where colours come alive. As with all music herein, these images are suggested but it is down to the listener to pull what they will from it and this itself can be the gateway to see the hopeful chinks of light behind the clouds, shafts piercing through and bringing warmth.
Again, whilst the themes may seem at time dark, there is a profound beauty here and the experience of soaking up this cathedral of sound immeasurably enjoyable.
In amongst the original material, Englund and Shankar have included two covers that slot perfectly in with the themes and overall atmosphere. The Eurythmics ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ is wonderfully stripped down as keys bubble under and the arrangement pitch perfect, the lyrics heavy with meaning.
The other cover is one that first brought the pianist to Englund’s attention and led to this projects birth.
Now with his own reinterpreted delivery of the vocals, Evergrey’s barnstorming opening track ’Distance’ from ‘The Storm Within’ album is turned into a sparse and yet equally dramatic tour de force. Never ‘over performed’, there is a genuine passion for the material here and you can tell both men immensely enjoyed the experience of tackling this and bringing a different angle to the composition.
The album closes with the instrumental ‘1999’, giving one last chance to absorb the very natural sound of the piano, Shankar seemingly playing with a live feel to the whole recording that befits its ‘realness’ and the soul that is at the centre of everything.
There is a focus on what sounds good and the ethos at play here seems to be to let the songs themselves breath, never smothered in unnecessary studio gloss or surplus bells and whistles.
You feel that both men are stretching themselves, spurring each other own in creativity but always keeping a tight rein on things, their initial vision focused but organically growing as the project progressed.
In ‘Satellites’ Shankar and Englund have created something exquisitely beautiful, deeply moving and ultimately uplifting. A genuinely stunning achievement, this may well just be the album of the year.