If you are looking for silver linings, here’s a good one for you! This year in lockdown has pestered a lot of people, but music-wise it rained cats and dogs with incredible releases and artists working on their solo efforts. Musicians don’t have the pressure anymore of dropping their albums within 2 years of their latest release because there simply is no prospect of when they get to go on tour again, and the result is a lot of inspiring music. The story which I’m going to talk about today starts with a phone call from renowned producer Nino Laurenne (Sonic Pump Studios) to one of Finland’s most prolific guitarists, Esa Holopainen (AMORPHIS). With Laurenne as his right hand, Holopainen finally had the time during the lockdown to dedicate to something special: his first solo effort, nine tracks all combined under the moniker SILVER LAKE, to be released on May 28th, 2021, via Nuclear Blast Tonträger.
Let me start off by thanking Nino Laurenne here and if I ever see him again, I definitely owe him a beer because this album really turned out to be one of my favorite releases of 2021. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. You came here to read more about the album, so let’s rewind and go back to the very first song, “Silver Lake.” This atmospheric intro is Holopainen‘s way of writing himself in the spotlight on this album; after all, this is a solo effort, which you might sometimes forget, seeing as there are many, many guests, but it already shows how he has a knack for enchanting melodies that offer nothing but escapism from the start.
“Sentiment” features Jonas Renkse (KATATONIA) who has to sing a melancholic lament with awe-inspiring melodies: A strumming pattern guides his vocals along, while sweeping guitar melodies in the background provide build-up to the atmosphere, which ends up being a thrilling start to this record. The track ends with a beautiful flute melody that feels like the end of a journey. Continuing with lead single “Storm,” the highlight of this record starts off with some atmospheric melodies and then goes straight to the soulful vocals of Håkan Hemlin. Holopainen has stated that a big influence for him is DIRE STRAITS, specifically clear in more atmospheric guitar melody inserts to increase the uplifting mood of the song.
While the main focus on “Ray of Light” goes to Einar Solberg (LEPROUS), who simply is a master in lifting songs up to their highest potential and often moves the listener with his emotional serenades, the instrumentation on this track is also top-notch. From sultry guitar melodies to bouncy bass lines, everything in this song is simply incredible if you focus on it. Vesa-Matti Loiri (one of Finland’s most famous actors/singers) provides spoken words in “Alkusointu,” a poem by Eino Leino telling the creation story according to Finnish mythology. You don’t have to understand Finnish to appreciate this track, as it is supported by magical guitar melodies, a slow-paced drum track, but perhaps the best part of is the trifecta of solos: a jazzy saxophone solo, Holopainen showing off his guitar wizardry, and a hyperbolic keyboard solo (correct me if I’m wrong, but that does sound like the trademark Vili Itäpelto sound), after which the song comes to a beautiful conclusion with Vesa-Matti Loiri, of course, having the last word.
AMORPHIS‘ fans will most likely get hyped up with the heavy, “In Her Solitude,” featuring none other than AMORPHIS‘ vocalist Tomi Joutsen. This track is the heaviest on the record and it’s in here where the listener can clearly see where Holopainen‘s musical roots lie; choosing Joutsen as a singer for this track only made sense. While it does include many of the same ingredients that an AMORPHIS hit has, towards the end, it gets clear that Holopainen is the composer and it fits right into the record, without any doubt. “Promising Sun” (featuring Björn “Speed” of SOILWORK and the NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA fame) keeps the momentum of the heaviness on this record while starting off slowly with a piano melody and, next to “Storm,” probably has one of the most memorable, catchy choruses on this album.
Featuring Anneke van Giersbergen on one of these tracks was an absolute must. After all, can we even imagine an Esa Holopainen solo album without having the ex-THE GATHERING singer featured? I guess we will never found out, as the Dutch vocalist has her guest appearance on the beautiful “Fading Moon,” filled with captivating melodies, and has everything you would hope for in a collaboration between these two artists. The album ends with “Apprentice,” another track featuring Jonas Renkse of KATATONIA. Focusing again on more acoustic elements, which somehow accentuate Renkse‘s melancholic vocals and push them to another level of beauty. Considering the first song (excluding the intro track) and the last song, share Renkse‘s voice, it provides a certain consistency to this record, as well as an incredible flow when you decide to play the album again, as the ending reprises some melodies Esa Holopainen introduced in his playing in “Silver Lake.”
While most guitarists, when announcing a solo effort, make the record a guitar extravaganza, showing off their skills with lightning fast solos, incredible shredding, and complex tapping patterns, Holopainen is modest in “Silver Lake.” He, himself, won’t come to the foreground too much, but when he does, his sweeping guitar melodies create otherworldly atmospheres in these songs that really showcase his complete potential. It’s this modesty, however, that makes this record extremely well put together, layered, and detailed. The many guests featured on this album were all invited for a reason and it truly felt like these tracks were written for them, regardless of whether they were involved in the songwriting process or not. All-in-all, “Silver Lake” is an eclectic journey through magical soundscapes that is a must-listen in 2021!
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)
Esa Holopainen – Guitars
Vili Itäpelto – Keyboards
Pasi Heikkilä – Bass
Sampo Haapaniemi – Drums & Percussion
Nuclear Blast Tonträger