BARREN EARTH first caught my eye due to the staggeringly awesome lineup of musicians therein—the band consists of past and present members of AMORPHIS, MOONSORROW, SWALLOW THE SUN, and KREATOR, not to mention a producer credit going to Dan Swano (KATATONIA, OPETH). I admit I wasn’t sure if the music could live up to my sky-high expectations.
In terms of sound, BARREN EARTH play a dark brand of Progressive Death Metal, the simplest comparison being OPETH. The songs are interlaced with a plethora of differing sounds including but not limited to folk-y acoustic interludes, 70’s prog-style keyboard, searing Death/Doom sections, and hell, even flute solos. And, most of the time, it works out pretty damn good. The opening title track is BARREN EARTH at their best: seriously evil riffing, wailing pinch harmonics and all, complimented by a guttural growl via SWALLOW THE SUN’s Mikko Kotamäki, whose Death vocals sound as good as ever. A couple great guitar solos sail by and are followed by some nice folk instrumentation, which is built upon until the song fizzles out. The closing track “Deserted Morrows” is another winner. Beginning as a Doom Metal epic, the song suddenly picks up and even showcases a catchy, upbeat Prog-rock finale that leads the album to a close. The combination of Mikko’s haunting voice and the ever-present Prog-tinged Doom of AMORPHIS is outstanding throughout the album, although very occasionally the clean vocals are nasally and weak.
The album starts to drag a bit in the mid-section, and it’s hard to deny that we’re hearing a sound that’s been well-trodden before, by the likes of OPETH, AMORPHIS, etc. That can be forgiven, though, since many of BARREN EARTH’s members helped to pioneer the very sound they are now trying to encapsulate. It ultimately doesn’t matter, because the drab moments are far exceeded and made up for by the bright spots, and they incorporate enough unique elements into their music to separate themselves from the pack. For a debut album, this is pretty impressive. I still prefer the members’ other projects, but if they’ve shown anything, it’s that this group has some serious potential, even if it hasn’t been fully realized yet.
(Online November 10, 2011)