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Barren Earth's Curse of the Red River is not an easy piece of art to define and describe to anyone who has never heard the music. There's 70s progressive rock, married with mid-career Amorphis, mixed with modern death-doom, seasoned with a dash or Opeth-esque newer progressive sort of metal, and left to simmer for a good five hours in a wood-fired oven in a cast iron pot. With herbs, coarse sea salt and oxtail. It's really a mixture of epic proportions, and really should turn into a hotchpotch pile of burned junk, but it works. Wonderfully.
In Barren Earth's case, the term "supergroup" gets unwarranted attention, but the sheer incredible professionalism, vision, experience, and, first and foremost, the extreme variance in the personal histories of the musicians probably work to the band's advantage. Verily, the band members mix their own particular musical comfort zones, probably step way outside them, and blend them without prejudice. As a fusion of the different ingredients, they manage to assemble the perfect stew. It's proggy, but not the standard progressive metal: the music and technicality works for the songs, not for wankery. It's tainted with the 70s for the sound's sake, but definitely not for any retro-bullshit: the 70s is an influence and an inspiration, not the beef in the sandwich. It's modernized, but not for commercial optimization: the sound and the extreme clarity work for the music, and don't polish something that should be left in the toilet bowl, as the clinical cut-and-paste production of the sub-genres and bastardizations of metal that mostly get labelled as "modern" so very often does. And it's varied, but not in the awkward way many bands with aspirations to cross over to every genre they can possibly reach with their slimy tentacles happen to assemble the fruits of their labors: the wandering around on the fields of music is natural, never forced or intentionally directed towards any specific spot the composers might have spotted with their audial binoculars.
What makes Curse of the Red River even more unbelievable as a music feat is the striking fact that the song-writing responsibilities have been evenly distributed among the band members. There isn't a single driving primus motor composer in the band. They all contribute, individually and in pairs, which helps to explain the variance between the songs. Because the songs are all different, with very little to no repetition on the basic structures. They all sound like themselves.
…which, of course, makes the production and the incredible coherence on the album even more striking. While the songs are individuals, unique specimens of their respective kinds, they still fit together, and the album is a holistic masterpiece. None of the tracks seems out of its place, and the loiterings from 70s to the modern doom-death and everything in between are parts of the natural flow of the music.
And the songs are full of things! Oh unholy Lucifer, they are filled to their brims with things! The two guitarists and the clearly audible bass do more than just lay a foundation for the tunes, they are everywhere. The songs are so full of intertwining and choreographed forms and shapes that every instrument seems to be in its natural place all the time, despite the audible evidence that every single one of them is practically shredding and creating parts of the whole throughout the hour of music, and all of them would be considered masterworks in the ranks of a lesser band. Even the jaywalking keyboards or the occasionally almost thrashy guitars buried deep in the foundations of a few songs would be considered displays of skill in other contexts; here they are organic parts of the songs, nothing more, nothing less. This mighty battleship soars, and it soars high!
While the album is a masterpiece, and will probably get tons of infatuated fans, it's equally obvious that it will get more than its share of detractors and hate. The sheer abundance of ingredients ensure that any over-critical listeners will always find something to dislike, either intentionally or subconsciously. Anyone who dislikes today's Finnish doom-death will be repulsed by the vocals and certain rhythm guitar passages. Anyone with dislike of acoustic guitars will experience an allergic attack, and those who fail to enjoy the late-90s Amorphis or 70s progressive rock will find something that turns into a pebble in a shoe. That cannot be helped, unfortunately, and this album will be known as an opinion-splitter far into the distant future.
To offer some advice to a new listener interested in Barren Earth's music: be a cow. Don't just try to think like a cow, be a cow. Find the internal essence of a ruminant on a field of poppies and other tasty treats, and start munching on the greens and colorful things around. Take it easy, fill your stomach and regurgitate, munch more, and ruminate. This is a huge platter of hay to digest, and the utterly insane amount of things to soften with the cranial digestive juices is a daunting task. It might take a score of spins, but the album will finally open up and reveal its inner purpose and logic. Discarding this piece of work after a single spin is a shame and a sin; it definitely takes more than a quick skim to see the light here, but certainly it will be worth the trouble. There's simply too much to see to just waste it based on initial reaction to the the incredibly rich dish on the plate. It's different, sure, it's a cornucopia, a fantastic mountain of vaguely familiar shapes and motifs, but mining it won't be wasted, if you take your time and do it properly.
Munch! Regurgitate! Munch! Ruminate! Repeat!
Barren Earth is a supergroup formed of members / former members of Amorphis, Swallow the Sun, Kreator, and more. Their first full-length, Curse of the Red River, was released recently. Decibel's review said it sounds like a mix of the styles of those groups. Before you go on, reflect for a moment on how absurd it is to say that anything sounds like a mix of Amorphis with just about any other kind of metal. Amorphis is a mix of nearly every kind of metal.
Regardless, they definitely do sound a lot like Elegy era Amorphis, the incarnation of the group when they achieved a balance between their melodic death metal origins and their later progressive leanings.
The songs are well-written and memorable, with notable highlights being the title track, "Flicker", and "Cold Earth Chamber". The production is tight as well, but the keyboards may be turned up a little too much in some spots.
The only member of the group I don't think fits is vocalist Mikko Kotamäki (of death/doom outfit Swallow the Sun). While his death growls work extremely well, his clean vocals tend to get overpowered by all the different things going on. And because they sound so much like Amorphis, it's tough not to make comparisons to Tomi Joutsen, who has a much stronger clean singing voice.
The Verdict: It's really a very good album, but it's tough to know exactly how to feel about it. There was already an Amorphis out there--do we really need another one? Those who like the progressive direction Amorphis has taken will probably do better to leave this one alone. But those who like the old Amorphis better should be all over this one.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
The trend of supergroups has been popping up a lot lately in Scandinavia. Musicians from other established metal bands bringing their musical chemistry and experience together to create new ideas. First came Bloodbath which mixes creative minds from Opeth, Katatonia and Hypocrisy (though not anymore) to create vile death metal. Survivors Zero which is a collection of Finnish death metallers creating Hypocrisy-inspired death metal. Now we have the 70′s prog rock inspired melodic death metal outfit Barren Earth. And what happens when you mix together Swallow the Sun, Moonsorrow, ex-Amorphis and leave out those boring riffs Opeth is oh so good at writing? This masterpiece.
Curse of the Red River could be looked at from two angles. First this is exactly what melodic death metal could have become if it had flourished in Sweden and didn’t take that huge leap overseas to the land of fame and fortune at the price of leaving your roots and your faithful fanbase that made you semi-famous in the first place out to dry. Barren Earth keeps to the roots of where melodic death metal branched from. The riff is the driving force of the music. They do not let vocal verses draw the attention from the half-assed riff that would never pass for a death metal riff. That would be taking the vocal duties for granted and once your band is focused on vocals as your main drive to the music then you’re done. Just ask In Flames. Killer imaginative riffs are the driving force of every verse. It is common to find songs with a verse riff that progresses through the course of a song so if paying attention the listener is treated to a more progressive flowing band than he bargained for. With the amount of riffage I am surprised there wasn’t a personalized riff included in the packaging. These five minute plus songs are just stuffed full of melodic leads, melodic rhythms, harmonies, you name it. This is the absolute progression melodic death metal should have made ten years ago when instead we saw the likes of In Flames and Soilwork lead us listeners down a path that most of us would rather forget.
The growled vocals are absolute growl and the clean vocals are deep and manly. No whining about connecting clouds or stabbing the drama. Well written lyrics about such topics as death, despair, and loss leave no room for whiny adolescent angst. Where modern bands lose still more credibility is in their lyrical themes and Barren Earth keeps level headed and professional — not follow trends. The clean choruses (sometimes switched up ala Amorphis and having the growls in the chorus) sound like a more polished style found on Tales from the Thousand Lakes with melodies that feel could be to some listeners the driving force of the music but is never battling with the guitar melodies for top spot. A melodic trend well played, majestic and intriguing.
Curse of the Red River explodes into the title track and the ears are greeted with a beautiful harmony and progressive verses that would make any modern melodic death metaller’s ears bleed in misunderstanding. Before the end of the opening song your giddy ears would have heard more solos than on the latest Gothenburg album and an acoustic medley reflecting where Barren Earth gathers most of its influence: progressive 70′s rock. I had already heard Our Twilight from their debut EP release and that was the song that had me hooked in the first place. I knew Barren Earth was a band to be reckoned with if the full-length was even half as good as that one track. But after even the opening title track it was clear that Our Twilight was going to end up just in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. The Our Twilight EP was only a taste of the composing on this full-length and Curse of the Red River surpassed the EP on all playing fields. The writing had only gotten stronger in the short span of time between the two releases and it is only imaginable how Barren Earth will sound down the road.
Now backing the train up I will mention the other angle this album could be described: take 70′s era RUSH, for example, right before recording Hemispheres, turn Alex Lifeson’s distortion up to 11, rub some Louisiana Hot Sauce in his eyes and stick a microphone in front of his face. What would then be recorded could most possibly be Curse of the Red River only 32 years earlier. Deep in the thick of things the synths echo prog rock from ages past. Throw on a pair of headphones. You will hear it. Down low in the mix they add new dimensions to the music — a second atmosphere. When the synths become the dominant melody in the eerie track Flicker it almost brings the legendary RUSH track Subdivisions to mind. The lead guitar styling of Janne Perttilä and Sami Yli-Sirniö reflect prog rock and even the tones used have that dirty 70′s or early 80′s distortion. Listen to the last half of Flicker and bask in the past. You cannot tell me the influence is so strong that this could almost be labelled 70′s prog-death metal.
With Kasper Mårtenson on keyboards from (what some say is) Amorphis’ glory days this album could be a real feeling of being at home with the atmosphere. If the acoustic progressive flow nods to the 70′s prog-rock era then Kasper’s choice and use of keyboard samples retrospect mid-80′s rock and early Amorphis. The Ritual of Dawn feels it could have been written during the Tales from the Thousand Lakes sessions. But that is not all. The piano pieces come across as passionate and never out of place. Tracks just like The Ritual of Dawn or the intro to the heavily Opeth-inspired Cold Earth Chamber effortlessly blend these beautiful moments into the metal in a way that even a metal head who doesn’t like the use of keyboards and pianos in metal could nod his head in agreement. Only musicianship of this high standard with age and experience could present such strong composing and powerful melodic flow. Because of the influence of Moonsorrow and Swallow the sun the album trudges along at mid-pace but this doesn’t pull down the music at all. There is enough breathing space to allow for the well developed melodies to flourish and still have its moments of intensity.
I could praise this album till the cows come home. In my opinion the best music must include melody. Simple as that. And this album bleeds of it. It is just awe-spiring how the tracks can jump from melody to melody with perfect flow. There are no rough parts that make me cringe or awkwardness such as Omnium Gatherum’s second outing Years in Waste. I mentioned before that this album sounds like Opeth with all the boredom removed. I like Opeth. Sure, they not my favorite band. I admit that they have a lot of boring sections in their music. But Barren Earth really is like taking the best moments of Opeth, the progressiveness of RUSH, the melodies of 90′s Gothenburg and mixing it in a studio with Amorphis. And in my eyes that could quite possibly be the best combination imaginable.
Curse of the Red River is all a metal fan needs: Moody and melodic metal with a progressive flow and both deep harsh and magnificent clean vocals. And a melancholy atmosphere which takes the listener on an inspiring journey through the decades of rock music progression while still sounding fresh and cutting edge.
At some point each of us has been out of town for an extended time. Sometimes it's only for a few days. Sometimes it can be for a week or more. (And we are really lucky if it's for a vacation.) Either way, we spend that time away from home sleeping in strange beds in hotels, or in relative's / friend's houses, etc. When we return home exhausted from our trip, climbing into our own warm, familiar, and comfortable bed is the greatest feeling in the world. I get the same satisfying feeling when I listen to Barren Earth's Curse of the Red River.
Curse of the Red River sounds instantly familiar due to its similarities to Amorphis...and with good reason, since the band features two former Amorphis members. (Olli-Pekka Laine plays bass, while Kasper Martenson covers the keyboards). I love the Tales From the Thousand Lakes through Tuonela period of Amorphis' career. Although I enjoy all of Amorphis' releases, the mid-to-late nineties span of albums will always be my favorite. Barren Earth's Curse of the Red River could easily be a lost Amorphis album recorded between Elegy and Tuonela. Imagine my excitement when I first heard "Curse of the Red River" and "Our Twilight" coming through my speakers. It felt like I was home again.
While Barren Earth are practically late nineties Amorphis incarnate, the band does show other influences as well. Opeth's influence can be heard in multiple places throughout the album. In fact, Olli-Pekka Laine has stated that it was actually hearing Opeth's Still Life which inspired him to want to start playing this style of music again, and in turn, eventually form Barren Earth years later with members of Swallow the Sun, Moonsorrow, and Kreator. Each band member has contributed his songwriting skills to Curse of the Red River. Some songs are co-written and some are credited entirely to an individual, yet the album remains cohesive throughout its nearly hour-long playing time. Most of the songs are relatively long, yet they never grow dull due to the expertise of each of the members on their respective instruments. All of the players fit together like components of one large musical organism with no part ever out of place.
Sami Yli-Sirnio (Kreator) and Janne Perttila (Moonsorrow touring member) handle the guitar duties. Unlike some bands, Barren Earth truly utilizes the fact that they have two guitarists. They rarely play the same thing simultaneously. Similar to Amorphis, one guitar is often playing folk-influenced melodies over the other guitar's chunky rhythms. At other times, the guitars are used to play melodies in harmony. Excellent, emotional leads lift songs like "Our Twilight" and "Curse of the Red River" to new heights when each song reaches the solo section. Beautiful acoustic guitars make an appearance on "Flicker" and the superb album closer, "Deserted Morrows." There's really a taste of everything in the guitar work. The bass, handled by Olli-Pekka Laine (ex-Amorphis), is round, warm and easily heard. Yet his playing fits so beautifully and snugly beneath the guitars that you almost don't even notice it's there. However, if the bass were inaudible, you would definitely miss it. It's just that the playing is so tasteful and spot on that it doesn't call too much attention to itself unless you are listening for it. Moonsorrow drummer, Marko Tarvonen, pounds the skins and makes his complicated drumming sound effortless. He also is credited with writing both "Our Twilight" and "Cold Earth Chamber." "Our Twilight" is easily one of the album highlights. It's obvious why they chose to include this song on the album even though it had already appeared on their 2009 EP of the same name. Kasper Martenson's (ex-Amorphis) keyboards are one of the main factors that bring Amorphis to mind when listening to Curse of the Red River. This is the same guy who either wrote or helped write such classics as "The Castaway" and "Black Winter Day." He contributes "The Ritual of Dawn" and another album highlight, "Forlorn Waves," to Curse of the Red River. His keyboard solos in both "Forlorn Waves" and "Ere All Perish" sound like they were culled straight from Elegy. He also furnishes the album with several well-chosen piano melodies. Mikko Kotamaki's clean singing is another factor that will remind listeners of Amorphis. His smooth vocals are very similar to Pasi Koskinen. These vocals make the choruses of songs like "Curse of the Red River," "Our Twilight," and "The Leer" take flight. These choruses are some of the strongest moments on an extremely solid album. Kotamaki brings many other diverse vocal styles to the album. Much like his work in his main band, Swallow the Sun, Kotamaki growls in a style similar to Mikael Akerfeldt throughout Curse of the Red River. He also adds spoken vocals to the macabre "Cold Earth Chamber" and low gothic vocals in the vein of Nick Holmes or Aaron Stainthorpe to the epic album closer, "Deserted Morrows."
Some of Barren Earth's songs may immediately bring Amorphis or Opeth to mind while other tunes, like "Deserted Morrows," sound much more unique and do not reveal obvious influences. Either way, the pieces of Barren Earth's Curse of the Red River fit together seamlessly. If you are a fan of bands like Opeth, Swallow the Sun, or maybe even Moonsorrow you will probably find something to enjoy here. Or maybe you are like me, and you have been enjoying Amorphis' recent output, but you still find yourself spinning their late nineties albums more often. If this is the case, you need to run out and buy Curse of the Red River on the double. Strangely, this album is instantly familiar and feels like a trip back in time, yet it has enough of it's own identity that it still seems fresh and vital.
Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com
It was worked to perfection wasn't it? Releasing a debut EP last November to get us all excited, "Our Twilight" was but a teaser of what to expect on the debut album of this Scandinavian 'supergroup'. That which we expected is this deliciously well-composed piece of prog-death-heavy-metal-rock which already has its sights set on many year-end lists based on the quality contained within, unequivocally stating the band members' desire for Barren Earth to stand proud on it's own two feet rather than living off the 'other' acts it is associated with.
Just to get it out the way for all time's sake, they are: Swallow the Sun, Moonsorrow, Kreator and Amorphis (among other lesser names). Though facets of some of those acts are apparent across "Curse of the Red River" it is the sheer experience of musicianship that is most important in making this album what it is; just a cursory listen will make clear how this could never be the work of a totally new band - the song-writing from start to finish is much too adept, with an excellent professional production to boot, for it to be the work of a bunch of johnny-come-latelies.
Strong Opeth and Edge of Sanity elements linger throughout, where songs such as "Flicker" and "Cold Earth Chamber" deal with experimental song structures yet, crucially, tie these into coherent pieces that ebb and flow exposing a great labour of love that has been invested in this project since formation back in 2007. Rather like picking highlight tracks, identifying one instrumental aspect of this tapestry over any other is very difficult: Mikko Kotamäki's growled and clean vocal performance is better than I've ever enjoyed with Swallow the Sun, the lead guitar work of Janne Perttilä and Sami Yli-Sirniö is both artistic and powerful, but Kasper Mårtenson's keyboards are simply a revelation. Sometimes subtle but always effective, Mårtenson's work (see "Forlorn Waves" and "The Ritual of Dawn" for instance) ties the output close to Amorphis and is the ace in the pack as far as "Curse of the Red River" goes, showing an imagination that is sadly lacking in most keyboardists in the metal world (especially that of power metal).
Though complex and uneasily digested, necessitating repeat and careful listening, this debut album by Barren Earth comes with my personal guarantee that with decent promotion and touring it will quickly become loved by many for the beauty and compositional knowhow that has gone into every song. Looking at how big Opeth have become with a style even more complex and demanding, Barren Earth, with an album like "Curse of the Red River" behind them, stand to enjoy great opportunity and adulation ahead; a real 'supergroup' quite possibly worth the title this time.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net