Longtime Evergrey member Tom S. Englund and virtuoso pianist and composer Vikram Shankar, an alumnus of projects such as Lux Terminus and Redemption, make a formidable creative duo on their Silent Skies project. Entitling the tandem’s third album Dormant is almost funny. There’s nothing staid or inert about this music. Shankar’s talents on piano, keyboards, and synths envelop listeners in a different manner during each of the album’s songs and Englund’s vocal and lyrical prowess gives the former a brilliant foil to play off. Their inspiration sounds unrestrained, yet conscious artistry defines each second of the collection’s thirteen songs.
Album opener “Construct” is one of Dormant’s more ghostly numbers. It creates fragile yet evocative musical surroundings with great patience, never rushing the song’s progression, and Englund’s voice gives listeners a constant signpost for figuring out where we are in the performance. The theatrical or cinematic demeanor of this music is obvious. “New Life” gets over with listeners as unadulterated balladry, primarily thanks to Shankar’s almost poetic piano melodies, and Englund’s vocal response is every bit as eloquent. The lyrics, as they are elsewhere throughout the release, are exquisitely top-notch.
“Churches” puts one of the album’s vocal masterpieces front and center. It’s a smart move positioning a song such as this near the beginning as it reveals another of the project’s core strengths early for newcomers to Silent Skies. Subtle tempo shifts come in and fade out throughout the song while the mix of keyboards, synthesizer, and piano flesh out the song. There’s great orchestral-minded guitar work, an underrated instrument in these tracks, layered throughout the number as well.
The tandem of “Reset” and “Tides” are definite highlights during the release. “Reset” is especially pivotal as it depicts a defining moment in the life of its first-person “speaker” when they take stock of everything that’s come before, where they are at, and what the future holds. The revolving and persistent piano melody Shankar whips up has a hypnotic effect and contrasts nicely with Englund’s breathtakingly sensitive vocals.
“Tides” overflows with poignant imagery. The specificity of Englund’s choices as a writer never presents an obstacle, however, for listeners to connect with the song. Moreover, his voice cuts away at any distance between the performer and the audience to render any disparities moot. It’s a song that, as well, emphasizes a balance between a singer/songwriter style and progressive tendencies.
Silent Skies splits the title song into two distinct parts without veering off-course. It’s a mood piece lacking the peaks and valleys of other songs, but the sustained atmospherics give Englund a strong basis for his vocals. A superficial hearing of this track may create the impression that it lacks urgency and direction, but that’s wrong. Listen carefully and you’ll hear a clear evolution in the song that carries you through to its conclusion.
Dormant is Englund and Shankar’s most impressive pairing yet. We witness two musical artists reaching their peaks as both individuals and a creative unit. If we’re lucky, they may keep reaching such peaks for years to come.