Why you’re all not endlessly raving about Finnish sextet Barren Earth is beyond me. The progressive death and doom band’s second full-length, The Devil’s Resolve, builds a spectacular edifice atop the already magnificent foundations they laid down with their 2010 debut, Curse of the Red River. Blending elements of ’70s progressive rock, folk, richly emotive doom, and of course the unmistakable slow-baked grind of European melodic death metal, Barren Earth’s sophomore release is a flawless example of sophisticated, nuanced and expressive metal.
Barren Earth are something of a supergroup—although the tendency to describe them as such should be tempered due to the pejorative associations so often attributed to such a moniker. It’s undeniable that the band contains some of European metal’s finest artists, with members (and ex-members) of outfits such as Amorphis, Kreator, Swallow the Sun, Mannhai and Moonsorrow all playing a part. But where ‘supergroups’ are so often formed as masturbatory endeavours to stroke a few egos and highlight individuals’ supposed talents, Barren Earth’s members don’t indulge in any such posturing. Instead, the band are collaborative, with all musicians focused on creating a sound that undoubtedly draws inspiration from their respective outfits, but is distinctive enough to stand on its own.
Mixed by the legendary Dan Swanö, The Devil’s Resolve begins with the expansive prog suite “Passing of the Crimson Shadows”. Containing all of the band’s finest attributes—from pastoral acoustic flourishes to heavy grinding passages, clean, soaring vocals and subterranean growls—the song is loaded with grunty riffs, uplifting swells and panoramic sweeps. A magnificent opener if you’ve ever heard one, and things only get better.
“The Rains Begin” mixes folksy stirring passages into a heavier propulsive threnody—with keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson maximizing the song’s potential with a glorious Hammond solo. “Vintage Warlords” brings the melodic doom, splicing weighty riffs and bucolic acoustic leads around vocalist Mikko Kotamäki’s varying soulful and guttural vocals. “As it is Written”, the album’s fourth and most epic track, brings the band’s progressive tendencies to the fore. With bagpipes to open, setting an elegiac mood, lush vocals and an almost shanty-like cadence propel the song forward. Barren Earth end it all on a rousing ’70s jamming finish.
Throughout the album the most attractive feature of the band’s sound is the unabashed confidence with which they blend a swath of genres. “Oriental Pyre” is aptly flecked with touches of Asian-flavored fusion rock, and “The Dead Exiles” looks to the heavens with a grand, doom-laden and funereal undercurrent, over which the band layer more modern technical metal textures. Seemingly everything the band touches is infused with a diverse range of styles and dynamics, and while that could easily lead to an overload of musical pretentiousness and self-glorification, Barren Earth ensure that that coalescing of genres is a signature style, rather than a signature problem.
Ultimately, the triumph of The Devil’s Resolve comes down to the band’s lack of self-indulgence—which admittedly might seem a little incongruent when talking about progressive metal, a genre not exactly know for its restraint. But Barren Earth succeeds in that the weight given to the diversity of sounds on the album never comes at the expense of the song itself. Yes, they cram a lot into each song, drawing inspiration from a raft of non-metal genres, but the recipe they adhere to is measured carefully rather than wantonly. That interweaving of styles is calibrated to ensure the album works as a whole, and is not just the sum of some flashier parts.
It’s a simple equation really. If you enjoy Amorphis or Opeth then Barren Earth will no doubt prove equally attractive. The Devil’s Resolve is more luxuriant, and contains a far greater proportion of prog than their previous album. It’s richer, and thus more beguiling, and although that extra layer of sophistication means it is not as immediate as its predecessor, the greater depths of The Devil’s Resolve ensure it is bound to be one of 2012’s very best metal releases.
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