Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen: Album Review

Amorphis guitarist Esa Holopainen leads his Silver Lake with some very special guests on a superb debut album.

Release date: 28th May 2021

Label: Nuclear Blast

Format: CD / DL / LP

For the last twenty years,  Esa Holopainen has been the lead guitarist of Finnish progressively-minded heavy metal innovators Amorphis. Good band – very good actually. He’s sadly been shorn of the chance to carry out duties with the day job in 2020 although it’s worth checking out their recently released and most magnificent Live At Helsinki Ice Hall album. However, he’s done the decent thing: record a few songs he’d kept in the drawer for a few years.

“Some of the stuff hasn’t exactly sounded like Amorphis,” he explains. “When Nino [Laurenne, owner of Sonic Pump Studios] called me late March, I already had three decent-sounding Silver Lake songs in stock. These tracks, Sentiment, Ray Of Light and Promising Sun, worked as the backbone for the full solo album.”

The dilemma of an album of instrumentals versus vocals resulted in a big win for the latter. Not surprising maybe with the contacts in his address book. With the promise of diverse styles ranging from 80’s Dire Straits-ish vibes (sorry – didn’t really spot any…thankfully) to some heavier, melancholic and even poppy tracks, these songs obviously required some strong vocal performances. And boy did his choices step up to the plate.

The album feels like a trip around Northern European Progressive music and to cut to the chase, there’s hardly a foot out of place. The eponymously titled instrumental acts as an aperitif before the big guns are rolled out. And a pastoral and atmospheric introduction it is too. Acoustic steel guitar and piano offering an aural glimpse, possibly a chill, of those Northern wastelands. Evolving into a sweep of strings, it’s an opening that surprises and segues perfectly into the first song, Sentiment, where Jonas Renkse adds his melancholic tones. Jonas is also on call for the album closer Apprentice.

Great choices as they veer off into the sort of darker atmospheric territories populated by Katatonia. Both are typical of the Katatonia style acoustic-led pieces with all sorts of cold and mournful images cast by such lyrics as: “I walk alone, your absent”, “I tremble ‘neath the words you left behind.” Oh yes, a couple of thrilling solos too and not for the only time, a grumble of keyboards adds an organic texture.

On Promising Sun, maybe there’s a hint of Coldplay’s Clocks in the opening models the sort of influences. However, it soon becomes a thundering gallop and a rabble-rousing and uplifting passage. Einar Solberg from Leprous adds his most distinctive tones to Ray Of Light. One that heads down a more commercial road although the intensity of the chorus sees Einar giving his all in contrast to the softly delivered verses. An inspired choice in the same way that Anneke Van Giersbergen is a no-brainer cohoice. Possibly the first name on the teamsheet, she surely smiles her way through Fading Moon. One that swings and sways with sheer glee driven by a pumping riff. Like the previous track, the arrangement is bold and powerful and not surprisingly, given the angelic AvG vocal, another mighty Symphonic Rock star is added to the firmament.

A special mention in dispatches to Finnish actor Vesa-Matti Loiri. Barely known beyond his homeland, he adds a serene spoken word part to Alkusointu; a piece that picks up on the musically triumphant gestures and sees Holopainen allowing the brief indulgence of some solo opportunities.And from the adventurous to the more familiar. In Her Solitude with Amorphis singer Tomi Joutsen is a dynamic and powerful track, the contrast of the melodic chorus and the frankly scary cookie monster growls sending chills and thrills. A reminder for readers to check out the recent (and very tremendous) Amorphis live album.

Aside from the obvious Holopainen skills in the six-string department, what comes through is the quality of writing and the way the array of vocalists are so well matched. Silver Lake may have been some time in the making and an understated release, but it’s an unexpected triumph of atmospheric and metallic mastery.

Listen to Storm here:

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