REVIEW: ESA HOLOPAINEN – “Silver Lake”
With live music brought to a halt, time stood still for many artists during 2020. Some struggled with the downtime, others came to view it as a rare opportunity. One where they could devote time to projects they once feared may never see the light of day, turning one day into day one. For Esa Holopainen, the mastermind behind Finnish metal legends Amorphis, it was an opportunity that paved the way for something hugely ambitious. After composing a versatile tracklist of pure instrumentation, Holopainen recruited an eclectic who’s who of guest vocalists, including Anneke Van Giersbergen, Jonas Renske (Katatonia), and Bjorn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork) to name but a few. Bearing the title ‘Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen’ the end result drops on May 28th through Nuclear Blast. An album that, at its best, is a genre bending stroke of brilliance by one of metal’s finest. Yet, at its worst, feels like a novelty act nobody asked for.
“Silver Lake”, the album’s opener and only strictly instrumental piece, demonstrates Holopainen’s talent for crafting memorable compositions into beguiling atmospheres. Yet while enjoyable, it fails to stand out from the abundance that follows. Where ‘Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen’ really succeeds is in its songs that explore new ground, and the vocalists that sing on them. Jonas Renske of Katatonia, the only vocalist to appear twice, performs on both “Sentiment” and “Apprentice”. Both predominantly acoustic based pieces, they ooze majesty and melancholy. Making them the perfect playground for Renske’s fragile, comforting and, at moments, heartbreaking baritone. In the end, it’s easy to see why he was asked back a second time.
Arguably the album’s catchiest and most engaging offering, “Storm” featuring Hakan Hemlin of Nordman, creeps up on you at first. Structurally, this unconventional leading single is in no rush to get to the hook, which works wonderfully in its favour. Yet when it arrives, the payoff is joyous. Marrying a galloping drum beat that leads into a chorus worthy of an 80’s anthem, topped off with a solo from Holopainen so good you’ll be humming it in your sleep, “Storm” proves well worth the risk as a single. As does “Ray of Light ” featuring Einar Solberg of Leporus, easily the most pop influenced track on here, flashing moody hints of eighties new wave with a dash of Bryan Ferry.
Curiously, it is the album’s heavier tracks, such as “Promising Sun” featuring Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra, where ‘Silver Lake’ often falls short, sounding more like buffers than unique offerings. Arguably for not travelling far enough from the source into fresher territory, as one would expect from an album of this nature. With the exception of “Alkusointu” featuring Vesa-Matti Loiri, a trudging, spoken word piece which doesn’t feel as if it belongs here whatsoever. While Holopainen seems keen on working with vocalists he admires, “In Her Solitude ” featuring Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis feels like an opportunity missed. Or one that should have been kept for the next Amorphis album. Unlike “Fading Moon” with Anneke Van Giersbergen, which brings the heavier elements, but is redeemed for not being normalised into familiarity by misplaced loyalties.
In assembling a team of progressively minded, heavy metal innovators, great consideration was clearly given across each of these nine songs. Each singer feels carefully interwoven into their respective arrangements, even if some don’t shine as bright as others. If, after thirty years, you thought you had Esa Holopainen figured out, you may have to think again. For ‘Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen’ makes clear that Holopainen still has some cards to play. Including an impressive ace or two that leave you curious for more.