Silent Skies’ Dormant is the third release from the highly praised duo of pianist/composer Vikram Shankar and Tom S. Englund. The pair are renowned for their work with other musical outfits; Englund with the band Evergrey and Shankar with acts such as Lux Terminus and Redemption. Their partnership under the Silent Skies banner, however, affords them an opportunity to present a different artistic vision that has proven to be compelling for a vast swath of the listening public. The ten tracks are grandiose, in some respects, without ever coming across as bloated. It’s a hallmark of the compositional skills powering Silent Skies that they are able to encompass worlds of sound and color within a condensed framework.
“Construct” opens the album by showing us one of the project’s varied faces. Silent Skies gradually builds this song opening with a near-reverential synthesizer wash coupled with Englund’s voice. Listeners cannot ignore the ambient dimensions of their vision. Shankar, however, increasingly modulates the synthesizers as the track progresses and the gathering intensity has an emotional effect. They end on a high note as the last minute reaches a satisfying peak. “Churches’ is a haunting track about pain, introspection, and self-reflection at the end of a relationship.
They pull off virtually 180-degree turns without losing their musical identity. “New Life” rises out of your speakers languid and elegant, yet the mood is decidedly darker. The suggestive title hints at possible renewal, but a close listen to the lyrics reveals a different perspective. It rates as one of Englund’s best vocals. Silent Skies structures “Just Above the Clouds” in three distinct movements that Shankar and Englund intersperse with gentle, dimly lit interludes. The aforementioned movements possess incandescent beauty and delicately waft past. It’s Englund’s voice, as impassioned as ever, that grounds the track and provides its foundation.
The self-searching rife throughout the lyrics for “Reset” makes it one of the strongest and most intelligent pieces on Dormant. It’s another emotional rollercoaster vocal from Englund that climbs to unmatched heights, but he doesn’t center it around pyrotechnics alone. Englund is a canny singer who understands how to best tailor his voice to Shankar’s piano playing. “Light Up the Dark” is an outright love song though it doesn’t deal with the standard cliches. It’s a mature example of Englund’s writing that approaches the gift of love with the complexity and reflection it deserves. Shankar’s probing piano playing, synth flourishes, and the classical echoes arising from the arrangement are colorful additions to the song, but never meaningless tinsel.
The cool calm of the title song plays well against another reflective, thoughtful Englund vocal. It isn’t an extended piece, but it’s nonetheless one of the collection’s prime examples of the rich musicality the tandem works to fit relatively diminutive frames. There’s never any sense of these songs trying to do too much; Shankar and Englund lay down clear parameters for each performance and work well within that framework.
Three bonus tracks end the release. The first is a revelatory cover of Iron Maiden’s war song par excellence “The Trooper”. There’s no galloping bass or Bruce Dickinson vocal wailing. Silent Skies, instead, revamp the song as an almost funeral cataloging of battlefield death. Their covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and Linkin Park’s “Numb” are equally astonishing. The former erupts as a cry from the heart, the testimony of a man running out of patience and options, while “Numb” retains much of the same attitude and accusatory air, albeit recast in a very different style. This trio of tracks is a fitting conclusion for a project and album capable of touching the emotions for a broad range of listeners.