Century Media Records, 30.03.18
Finnish Barren Earth soon made a name for themselves with the first album, Curse of the Red River (2010). It was quite natural to compare the debut to Amorphis. In fact, Barren Earth sounded more Amorphis than Amorphis themselves at the time. Even with a minor Jethro Tull-ish prog-touch. Something that (along with the line-up) could help explain the quick success.
Two more albums have seen the light of the day in the meantime. These have shown the band from a more progressive side, and have not necessarily been as immediately readily available.
Connoisseurs will know that Barren Earth is something of a super-groups. Even though this term has a bitter smack. Let me start by presenting the band, as I never got around to review the previous album, On Lonely Towers (2015). Jon Aldará took over the vocal duties from Mikko Kotamäki (Kuolemanlaakso and Swallow the Sun) on the previous record. I had actually forgotten this, but Faeroese Jon's distinctive vocal style, heard in Hamferð og Clouds, ain't difficult to recognize. Besides him and the new keyboardist Antti Myllynen (Creinium), Barren Earth consists of original members since the band's inception in 2007. Olli-Pekka Laine from Amorphis et al. plays bass. Marko Tarvonen from Moonsorrow et al. handles drums. Guitarist Janne Perttilä has a fair merit list to show for, though no bands that I've heard of, besides playing for Moonsorrow. Guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö, for his part, has, played in Kreator since the dawn of this millennium.
On their fourth album, Barren Earth has slipped further away from its starting point, although only slightly, and no more than natural progression could explain. The music itself can (with a certain amount of goodwill) be defined as melodic death metal of the mild and gentle type in inseparable interaction with progressive metal. The band focuses on melodies with dreamy moods and floating drift with lightly turbulent rhythms and some erratic transitions.
A couple of the means especially helps give A Complex of Cages its character and identity. One of those is the synthesizer, which is used to create surreal and unearthly sounds and moods, not unlike Arjens antics in Ayreon. The same instrument is to all appearances also used to emulate flute, symphonic segments or Hammond organ at appropriate occasions.
The other medium that stands out is the clean vocals. Along with grizzly-growls, we find vocals of the very clean and mild kind. As mentioned, recognizable from Hamferð. Prog metal with clean vocals easily gives a few association to Enslaved, without it necessarily becoming a very relevant reference. You might as well suggest that calm atmospheric metal with delicate cleans gives vibes of a-ha. An equally unhelpful reference, that is.
The music is well-written and comfortable, while there's enough to sink the teeth into for anyone who like to enjoy music with a watchful and concentrated mind. The fine production is performed by V. Santura (Dark Fortress) in his Woodshed Studio. A Complex of Cages is neither innovative nor unusually impressive, but the album sounds good, the instrumentation is proficient and the music is nice and qualitative. Rating: 4+
Sony Music Entertainment who owns Century Media Records, don't allow embedded streams, so visit YouTube to see and hear The Ruby, Withdrawal and Further Down.
Prosthetic Records, 16.03.18
About a decade ago, when MySpace filled the role that Bandcamp does today, I discovered a band that merged uncompromising death metal of a tolerably brutal sort, with progressive and classical song structures.
The band was Monotheist from Orlando, Florida, and the recording was Unforsaken, first released as demo in 2007 before being re-released as full-length in 2012.
Following up this, would take longer than the band had reckoned. In 2013, the Americans finally released the EP Genesis of Perdition, where long compositions had been replaced with shorter, more jazzed songs.
I respected the band's groin-kicking music and distinctive style right from the start, although I had less appreciation for their self-appointed monotheistic stance. Over the years, however, the band seems to have toned down the significance of religious inspiration and the music as a missionary medium. I nevertheless intend to ignore any potential evangelical context. Something that's not difficult either, as the lyrics on Scourge is growled almost deeper than ever.
Scourge unites the best aspects of the two former releases, with compositional cleverness, moods, rawness and punch. The sound has been perfected since the first record, with professional production to show for. The album consists of eight tracks of fair duration, of which three last for ten minutes. Together they arrive at approximately an hour.
The songs takes slightly different directions on Scourge, and you could always nitpick a bit on some sequences, as well as some transition. Nevertheless, I find that most of the album works surprisingly well, at the same time as the variation becomes flattering. Thus I can live with the entirety splaying like an octopus in its own shapeless bubble.
I can't think of other bands to compare with than the townsmen in legendary Death, and their technical period. The similarity is limited, but Monotheist is still technical and compositionally profound enough to deserve that comparison. They are in addition at the peak of their career. Thus far. Fans of intricate and partly symphonic death-prog are advised to check out Scourge. Rating: 4+