Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen (Album Review)

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A year of lockdowns and isolation is bound to lead towards innovation, especially for artists who are used to playing live gigs and traveling the world for a living. It may well be that Amorphis co-founder and guitarist Esa Holopainen would eventually have made a solo album of his own accord. But having his touring plans for the foreseeable future shelved in the spring of 2020 was likely the catalyst he needed, along with a nudge from renown producer Nino Laurenne. Out of every challenge comes a silver lining and “Silver Lake” certainly glitters as good as gold.

A primary question for any solo album by a guitarist who isn’t a lead singer is: will this be an instrumental guitar tour de force? Holopainen quickly determined that not only would the majority of the album include vocals, but he would create an all-star wish list of singers to lend their voice to his compositions. The result is an extremely diverse and rewarding array of songs that will likely appeal to a wider audience than would necessarily be considered Amorphis fans, even as one of the tracks features Tomi Joutsen. Indeed, Holopainen confessed that some of the songs he wouldn’t have dared offer to his primary band. The variety of styles is apparent just by surveying the artists chosen: Anneke van Giersbergen, Einar Solberg, Jonas Renkse, Björn “Speed” Strid and many more. Incorporating these unique voices into short but impactful songs, Holopainen and his band provide the consistent foundation that ties all of the material together, resulting in the project he now calls “Silver Lake”.

As if to christen his new band name, Holopainen chooses to launch into the Silver Lake on the wings of an instrumental guitar title track, almost a nod to those who might have guessed the entire album would have this quality. Instead, acoustic guitars continue on “Sentiment” which sounds as if the listener has fallen into Katatonia territory. Holopainen explains that on some of the songs he wrote everything himself, whereas on others the singer wrote melodies and/or lyrics. Jonas Renkse chose the latter approach and the result is a brilliant 4 minute combination of two creative forces coming together, Renkse’s swaying voice being carried by Holopainen’s rhythm and lead lines. As if to punctuate how natural this combination holds together, Renkse essentially bookends the songs on the album by returning on closer “Apprentice”, an equally alluring piece in 3/4 time. These two could likely have made the entire recording together with much success but one can’t argue the strengths of the other singers and styles, so let us continue.

Storm” is the lead-off single, paired with a stunning video featuring lead singer Håkan Hemlin – also known as Nordman – calling to the elemental worlds of sea and forest. Ranging from Western-flavored guitar licks to a thunderously commanding chorus, this is a song that can get lodged in your brain for days, its uplifting proclamation permeated with a spiritual fervor. Leprous’ celebrated vocalist Einar Solberg is up next, on a more pop-tinged song that still retains some bite even as the vocal lines can make the listener swoon. “Ray of Light” is one of the three songs that Holopainen had originally written for this project and Solberg surely does it justice right up to the dramatic ending.

Time for a left turn and “Alkusointu” provides just that. Meaning “Alliteration” in English, its lyrics are offered as spoken-word by legendary Finnish actor and musician Vesa-Matti “Vesku” Loiri. As Holopainen offers up a dark, brooding musical backdrop, Loiri’s deeply affecting vocal delivery strikes as though they were Saruman’s spells being cast over the Misty Mountains. It’s a thrilling change of pace that includes an intriguing instrumental middle section. The attack gets heavier for the next two songs, starting with Tomi Joutsen’s inevitable appearance on “In Her Solitude”. Likely to be a favorite of Amorphis fans, it’s a convincing track, featuring the only growl vocals of the album and a blistering drum performance as Holopainen’s guitar melody plays over and over until the final growls to close the song. Soilwork’s Björn “Speed” Strid effortlessly delivers on “Promising Sun”, another of Holopainen’s original songs written for the album, and punctuated by stabbing guitars throughout the verses. Finally, in juxtaposition to the promising sun, Anneke van Giersbergen weaves her spell on “Fading Moon”, a song which would be the lead single on most albums but here is just one more excellent addition to a string of strong tracks. It’s wonderful having her voice on here to balance out the characteristic  male vocals, right before Renkse returns to tie things together on “Apprentice”.

As is likely evident by now, Holopainen’s achievement lies in mining the strengths of each singer even while working within the context of these original songs. It’s Holopainen’s own material, yes, but it also delivers a kind of “greatest hits” vibe in terms of the sonic signature of its star vocalists. Fortunately, Holopainen hints that there may be more “Silver Lake” releases in the future. With tastes such as his, that can only be a good thing. Hopefully it won’t take another lockdown to make it happen.

Released by: Nuclear Blast Records
Released on: May 28th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Metal

Musicians: 

  • Esa Holopainen / Guitars

Silver Lake” Track-listing:

  1. Silver Lake (instrumental)
  2. Sentiment (feat. Jonas Renkse of Katatonia)
  3. Storm (feat. Håkan Hemlin of Nordman)
  4. Ray Of Light (feat. Einar Solberg of Leprous)
  5. Alkusointu (feat. Vesa-Matti Loiri)
  6. In Her Solitude (feat Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis)
  7. Promising Sun (feat. Björn ‘Speed’ Strid of Soilwork / The Night Flight Orchestra)
  8. Fading Moon (feat. Anneke Van Giersbergen)
  9. Apprentice (feat. Jonas Renkse of Katatonia)

8.5 Great

Lead guitarists of celebrated bands often indulge in heady 6-string excess when it comes to their solo albums. Instead, Amorphis co-founder Esa Holopainen indulges in a wish-list of lead singers to grace his skilled compositions and the results are impressive indeed. If the COVID lockdown era desperately needed a silver lining, “Silver Lake” certainly fits the bill.

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