In case you don't know the name, Esa Holopainen has been the lead guitarist, since their founding in 1990, for the appropriately named Finnish band Amorphis, who have morphed over the years from a doom/death infused progressive metal sound to melodic rock. This is a solo project, which may or may not be called Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen, just Silver Lake or Esa Holopainen with the album entitled Silver Lake. Whatever it's called, it's his debut as a solo artist and it allowed him to work with a plethora of talented European vocalists who cover quite a stylistic range themselves.
In fact, I've reviewed a lot of their bands' most recent albums and, between them, they've made a lot of very interesting modern rock and metal. There's Jonas Renkse from Katatonia, Einar Solberg from Leprous and Björn Strid from Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra, even Anneke van Giersbergen. Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis is here too and, had I started Apocalypse later Music a year earlier, I'd have reviewed the most recent Amorphis album. That leaves Håkan Hemlin of Nordman and a Finnish actor, Vesa-Matti Loiri, a huge star in Finland courtesy of his twenty Uuno Turhapuro movies, who provides the spoken word performance on Alkusointu, or Alliteration.
These voices are what drive the flavours of the album, because Holopainen is pretty consistent in his conjuration of atmospheres behind them. I don't know what instruments are in play, but they're all in a supporting role, avoiding riffs in favour of orchestral sweeps and sometimes ritual rhythms. I would think much of it is keyboard driven, but there's definitely a flute in there and, of course, the guitar we expect. What he varies is mostly the intensity, dialling it up for Ray of Light, over which Solberg soars like an eagle, and down for Storm, a more patient and exploratory piece for Hemlin's raspier voice to lead. Of course, Ray of Light calms at points and Storm rages too, but that's just further intensity play.
It's really interesting to see Hemlin and Solberg's contributions next to each other on this album, as it can't be missed that their voices are wildly different. Before them is Renkse, who delivers in a folkier rock style, and after them is that spoken word piece from Loiri, so Holopainen isn't trying to make the album flow from one extreme to the other; he's deliberately throwing the most different approaches right next to each other for effect and that works really well for me. In fact, the only vocalist with two songs to sing does so at opposite ends of the album, that being Renkse, who gets the first and last of the eight songs here.
Oddly, Alkusointu, the spoken word piece, also features a far more overt guitar, especially during the intro, even though the most overt guitar solo towards the end is done with keyboards. Holopainen is definitely enjoying flouting our expectations here. The most overt guitar on the album, however, is on In Her Solitude, as it's easily the heaviest track here, with Joutsen using a harsh voice as well as a clean one, with both working well as yet another contrast on an album that's full of them.
I liked everything here, including the instrumental opener, also called Silver Lake, though it's hard to call out favourites. Usually that happens when all the songs are too similar to separate them, but this time it's because they're so different vocally. It'll probably come down to personal taste as to which of the voices fit Holopainen's backing the best. I see a lot of people talking up Storm, understandably so, but I'd go with Ray of Light as the standout and maybe Apprentice, the closer with a brooding Renkse and another folky guitar, as the dark horse of the album. You may plump for two different songs and that's fine. It's a great sign that this is a worthy debut for solo Holopainen.