Since leaving the ground breaking doom metal band The 3rd and the Mortal after their debut album Tears Laid in Earth, Kari Rueslåtten has exchanged the sound of three distorted guitars for more of a pop-rock sound in a successful solo career, with a collection of demo tracks with touches of Nordic folk, followed by six varied solo albums all driven by her gorgeous voice. Silence is the Only Sound is the third album since her return from hiatus in 2014 after 2005’s Other People’s Stories and the seventh solo album of her career overall. As always there’s a magic to her soft, cooing vocal style with the instantly recognizable Nordic trill, and with the ethereal instrumentation provided from guitarist Jostein Ansnes providing a lovely background, always giving the platform for her voice to shine, in another album that show’s Kari can do no wrong.
In style it’s very much in the vein of the previous album To the North, but with the folk elements removed, and the rock/pop style left. The music is soft and calming for the opener Believer, with gentle washes of clean electric guitar and understated percussion, a perfect backdrop for her gorgeous soft cooing vocals, the Nordic trill to it coming across beautifully when she holds the notes in the chorus. Kari isn’t one to belt out her lyrics, nor hit high notes, despite her time in a metal band, just singing soft and slightly ethereally her introspective lyrics, and the power comes from the assuredness in her voice and timbre. A slight guitar flourish in the bridge is the only time where Ansnes’ guitar takes centre stage in a relaxed vocal centric piece. If Kari’s voice didn’t sound soft enough in the opener, on the single Chasing Rivers, her dreamy high pitched vocals in the introduction are as soft as you can get without being fragile. More power into the voice hitting some higher notes in the chorus, and some more upbeat instrumentation with the distorted washes of guitar and lovely melodic motif make it more of a rock number than the poppy opener in one of the catchiest pieces on the album. As a whole on Silence is the Only Sound the lyrics are rather introspective, the meaning rather ambiguous while being clearly personal, especially on the darker pieces to be mentioned later in the review, as was the case to an extent on To the North,
On her 2014 comeback album Kari re-recorded the The third and the Mortal classic Why So Lonely, trading the three guitars for the piano of Nightwish keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen. Here she does another re-recording, the title track of her debut solo album Spindelsinn translated into and sung in English and renamed Spellbound, with the instrumentation reimagined by Ansnes, with more of the ethereal guitar, removing all the folk elements of the original. With the crystalline production of Silence is the Only Sound being much clearer than the debut album, it sounds gorgeous, the main melody recreated with swathes of guitar, soft percussion injecting a bit more drive and energy. Her voice in Norwegian had even more of the trill to her voice, and her English singing voice is much calmer than that more folky style, and it sounds so gorgeously soft, perfect against the lovely wash of guitars. The original is a classic, but this re-recording couldn’t have been done any better.
Saviour with its twinkly and slightly glitchy electronics and soft brass, amps up to a rockier piece with some fantastic percussion, and a great lead guitar presence, with Kari singing softly her introspective lyrics, before hitting some really high notes in the chorus with a powerful yet still lovely energy. As Evening Falls begins with a mysterious and ethereal sounding guitar riff and great haunting synths, and a sad mournful voice against the melancholy lyrics. It builds up to a dramatic climax to match this haunting sound, a bluesy guitar solo in the middle of the track creating a wistful atmosphere.
There are some darker moments on the album among these calmer pieces, with the dramatic synth strings and relatively aggressive percussion of Gone, the darker sultry tone to Kari’s voice, bringing to mind the darker trip-hop sound of her Pilot album. Music You Should Hear isn’t as dramatic, but with the sparse acoustic guitar and mournful synths a dark atmosphere is created for Kari’s weary, melancholic vocal style.
The longest track is the closing title track, beginning with twinkling piano playing the same note softly, with Kari singing tunefully, carrying the main melody with more of the soft trill to her voice. Other than a few understated synths and these notes of piano the whole is driven by her voice for most of the track, a soft fragility creeps into her voice as it comes close to cracking with the weight of emotion, just before a percussive beat comes in, and washes of guitar take over from the vocals, akin to the most beautiful of shoegaze, with a gorgeous soft repetition of the word “silence” in the background accentuating this beautiful web of sound.
Twenty five years into her career, Kari’s song writing and vocals have lost nothing over time, since her return in 2014 she’s released some of her best albums since The Third and the Mortal, and this is more of the same. Her gorgeous, ethereal Nordic vocals combined with Jostein Ansnes’ brilliant sense of tone and melody in the instrumentation make Silence is the Only Sound nothing short of magical, and one of the most beautiful albums of the year.