SILENT SKIES – Dormant (Album Review)

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Winter is alive.

Its landscapes may appear desolate, and its boundless silence may put on the façade of death, but there is the undeniable thrum of life beneath those grey skies. “Dormant” reveals this spirit that persists through the cold, and Silent Skies has returned to shine its light on those that dare to hope in the face of darkness. With their third album in as many years, Tom Englund (Evergrey, Redemption) and Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Lux Terminus) again embrace ambient, piano-driven art rock, and do so across an hour of heart-wrenching beauty.

The duo’s cinematic horizons have captivated listeners since 2020’s debut “Satellites, followed by the well-received sophomore effort “Nectar.” As “Dormant” proves, this previous string of successes is no fluke: these artists are absolute masters of their craft, and this latest outing is yet another addition to their endlessly impressive list of sonic accomplishments. “Dormant” initially follows in much the same pattern as Silent Skies’ earlier albums with its ten original tracks. Rounding out the album, however, are three cover songs shaped by the band’s melancholic signature.

“Dormant” begins with an atmosphere akin to slipping below cold water, listeners tenderly submerged beneath the idyllic waves of opening track “Construct.” These first four tracks proceed with a delicate touch, one that has always defined Silent Skies’ sound, and this precision is particularly highlighted on “Just Above the Clouds.” Cello features from Raphael Weinroth-Browne (also heard on “Nectar”) further accentuate the technical musicianship of this project’s leaders. Touches of pop sensibilities are scattered throughout the album, notably on title track “Dormant,” and its preceding track “Light Up the Dark.” A careful balance of musical elements, spanning from cello to keyboard to keening vocals, bind “Dormant” together with seamless emotive grace.  

Silent Skies has always been a more seasonal endeavor than Englunds initial proving grounds. As Evergrey’s name illuminates, Englund has pored over the many sorrows of the soul for two and a half decades, and has done so with glimmers of light few and far between. Shankar has traversed numerous projects, each with their own identity, but none quite as definitively joyous as Silent Skies. The latter half of “Dormant” contains the sparkling starlight that has no home in either Evergrey or Redemption. There is sadness, and there is hesitance, but it is the brilliant refraction of promise and prospect that makes “Dormant” so bright. There is an undeniable beauty to be found where both Englund and Shankar embrace an atmosphere of hope.

Reset” could stir even the coldest of hearts, its crescendos and soaring passages like the first breath of air in new lungs. Contrast against the gentle embrace of Englund’s timbre is Shankar’s energetic piano melody. This heavenly union is one showcased throughout “Dormant, particularly as Shankar shifts effortlessly between solemn mourning and hopeful yearning. His dexterity on the keys brings lush vibrance to every corner of “Dormant” in a celebration of visionary musicianship. Both “Reset” and “The Real Me” tangle elegantly with themes of self and identity, at times feeling like a self-portrait of the artists behind the work, and at other times feeling like a mirror for the listener. It is a brilliant display of vulnerability and poetic vision. This rich emotional decadence, overflowing with creative fervor, is the premise that makes Silent Skies so immediately mesmeric.

Even at the darkest moments of “Dormant, such as the haunting halls of “The Last On Earth,” there is undeniable passion imbued in the music. Englund’s voice in “Churches” carries with it the resonance of long-scarred heart. And where Shankar plays on “Dormant,” there is willful staggering, a lilt that speaks as loud as words ever could.

“Dormant” Artwork

Discussion of this soulful album would be incomplete without addressing the three covers that serve as the bookend to “Dormant. First comes a piano-led rendition of Iron Maiden’s classic hit “The Trooper,” followed by Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” There is no shortage of kudos owed to Silent Skies for such a cinematic project taking on a high-charged track like “The Trooper.” It’s perhaps one of the most unique takes on the song since its release, and the cover transforms this familiar work into something else entirely. There are strains of the familiar, but they are entwined with the innovative twist Silent Skies has introduced, adding greater depth and ambience to well-worn melodies.

The album ends with a cover of Linkin Park’s “Numb.” As with “The Trooper,” this is a cover like never heard before. It’s not as though Silent Skies merely interpreted the song through their own eyes: this is “Numb” in an entirely new light. “Dormant” takes a song already rich with emotion, aching in the absence of its original creator, and drenches it with melancholic moonlight. There is an echo of intent that resounds through each subsequent verse. And while most of “Dormant” is led by bright electronic elements and dancing piano, “Numb” takes shape with Englund firmly at the forefront. These creative and stylistic choices highlight the care put into making each cover its own poignant statement, and places “Numb” as the most spectacular standout of the trio.

Silent Skies have once again created an immutable masterpiece. “Dormant” is not as immediate as “Nectar,” nor is it as accessible as “Satellites,” but it is a breathtaking glance at the potential Englund and Shankar have unlocked through their creative union. This is an album that is meant to be savored, contemplated, enjoyed time and again. This is an album meant for all seasons, both the dark nights and the dazzling days, both the howling winters and the sweltering summers. It has a soul that can speak to anyone in need, so long as they take the time to truly listen. With perhaps the most heartrending album of the year, Silent Skies once again showcases the untouchable musical talents of both Englund and Shankar, and gifts the world another timeless piece of art.

Release Date: September 1st, 2023
Record Label: Napalm Records
Genre: Art Rock

Musicians:

  • Tom Englund / Vocals
  • Vikram Shankar / Piano, Keyboards
  • Raphael Weinroth-Browne / Cello

“Dormant” Track-list:

  1. Construct
  2. New Life
  3. Churches
  4. Just Above the Clouds
  5. Reset
  6. Tides
  7. The Real Me
  8. Light Up the Dark
  9. Dormant
  10. The Last On Earth
  11. The Trooper (Iron Maiden cover)
  12. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
  13. Numb (Linkin Park cover)
9.0 Excellent

Melancholy and hopeful yearning coalesce in the cinematic soundscapes of “Dormant,” the third opus from ambient art-rock duo Silent Skies. With a creative vision that comes to light amidst key-driven poetry, “Dormant” is one of the most heartrending albums of the year, and it is well-suited for all seasons of life

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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