Artist: Esa Holopainen
Album Title: Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 28 May 2021
I don’t mind admitting that I’m a huge fan of Amorphis, and have been since before the Millennium, thanks to the amazing ‘Tuonela’ album. It still remains a personal favourite of mine, not just within the incredibly strong Amorphis back catalogue, but within my ever-growing collection as a whole. So when I found out that one of the founding members and principal songwriters, Esa Holopainen was to release his very first solo effort, I was excited and slightly nervous in equal measure. Would this record sound anything like Amorphis, or would it be completely different? It was always unlikely that Holopainen would sing himself, so would it be an instrumental affair, or would it feature a guest vocalist? These any many other questions rattled around my brain as I semi-patiently awaited more news.
Brought to fruition thanks to the near worldwide Covid pandemic lockdown, throughout almost the entirety of 2020 and much of 2021 so far, it turns out that ‘Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen’ is a more intriguing affair than I was perhaps expecting. What Esa Holopainen has done is assemble a collection of superb vocalists to sing on the record, a veritable who’s who of the rock and metal worlds, from Jonas Renkse of Katatonia, to Anneke van Giersbergen. Now, naturally, not all of the voices suit the same kind of song, so what ‘Silver Lake…’ is, is more of a project, and a collection of different styles, albeit all written by Esa himself. These kinds of records can be very hit and miss, so it’s fair to say that this was a bold and brave move. The big question though, is ‘does it work?’ and ‘is the final product worth our time and attention?’
The answer to these questions is both yes, although I have to declare that it’s a cautious yes rather than an all-out, screamed affirmation. Being such a diverse album to cater for the assembled vocalists, ‘Silver Lake…’ does have its peaks and troughs, although I like to refer to them, more kindly, as slightly lower peaks, or peaks designed for those who suffer from vertigo. When the music hits the mark, it’s marvellous, whilst the jury remains out on a couple of the tracks. I suspect that each listener will have his or her own views too, based on how much you like each singer. So please don’t take my word as gospel because you may have a very different feeling about the music than I do.
But first up, hold the front page! Matt likes the tracks that feature Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse. Well duh. Quite frankly, I could listen to the Swede sing my itemised bank statements without me wanting to kill myself. However, I return to the cautiousness that I expressed earlier, because they’re not my favourite songs on the album if truth be told. Renkse is the only guest to feature on two tracks, ‘Sentiment’ and the closer, ‘Apprentice’. They are both acoustic-led tracks, with the former sounding like one of the more folk-inspired numbers from recent Katatonia records, with heavy 70s key sounds. Esa’s guitar playing is beautifully deft and poignant, while Renkse is his usual impeccable self. However, it is lacking a little something. The latter contains, for my tastes, the stronger melodies and resonates with me a lot more. I also like the darker, more melancholy vibe within it too, as well as some great bass playing at its heart.
However, it is elsewhere where I derive the most enjoyment. For example, I adore the opening instrumental, ‘Silver Lake’, a beautiful acoustic guitar-led piece that displays Esa Holopainen’s skills as a lyrical guitarist and composer. The way it builds in intensity is wonderful, especially when those unmistakeable electric leads emerge to an atmospheric, almost cinematic backdrop.
Somewhat surprisingly, I have also really grown to love ‘Storm’, a track fronted by Swedish vocalist Håkan Hemlin, that features some strong electronics, a driving beat, and some bluesy guitar notes from Esa. I’m reminded a little of bands like Magnum here, as it’s just a quality rock song, with a huge, rousing chorus, made all the more powerful by the quieter, brooding verses either side.
One of my absolute favourites though, has to be ‘Ray Of Light’, featuring the voice of Einar Solberg of Leprous. Again the song is littered with plenty of keys, creating a classic 70s feel, but Solberg is in mesmerising form, delivering a performance that is nothing short of captivating, enhancing the already strong melodic intent of the music with a passionate display, using his unique technique to its fullest. The press release talks about the fact that some of the vocalists wanted to write their own lyrics and melodies, whilst others let Esa take control. I’d love to know more about which vocalists did what on this album, although if I was a betting man, I’d say that Solberg was heavily involved with ‘Ray Of Light’.
For fans of recent Amorphis output, there’s good news as Tomi Joutsen lends his gruff bark and clean singing to ‘In Her Solitude’, arguably the heaviest song on the album. It is great to hear Esa compose a song like this, as it demonstrates his pride in his main band, rather than trying to distance himself from the day job. And it’s a great song, one that could easily feature on the next Amorphis record and be rightly lauded by fans.
Mind you, the following track, ‘Promising Sun’, led by Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) offers some delicious chunky riffs that send shivers up and down my spine. And Anneke van Giersbergen channels her best The Gathering performances within ‘Fading Moon’, another satisfyingly muscular track, albeit laced with lots of textured synths, and piano notes to accent the chugging riffs.
The only song I’ve not mentioned is ‘Alkusointu’, a composition that features a spoken-word performance by Finnish legend Vesa-Matti Loiri in his native tongue. The track is interesting in that it juxtaposes some heavy guitar notes with some genuinely whimsical synths and melodies, not to mention a pedestrian tempo. I’m not a fan of the saxophone lead solo that emerges, but that faux-pas aside, it’s an entertaining piece.
Despite my very small reservations here and there, I have to conclude that ‘Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen’ is an overall success. It’s always a bit of a risk to invite so many different vocalists, with such different styles, onto an album, but by and large, it works here. Yes, there is an argument to say that the record lacks a little in terms of having a clear identity, but Esa Holopainen is such a talented guitarist and composer, that he is the glue that holds everything together, thus creating just enough cohesion. I have no qualms in recommending ‘Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen’ to anyone who likes Amorphis, or any of the assembled vocal cast.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: