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Barren Earth has a reputation as a "supergroup". To lead the reader deeper into the reasoning behind the rating and the humble reasonings here, supergroups are generally combinations of musicians from different groups, usually somehow notable bands, and whatever they happen to create when gathered in one place, it raises all sorts of expectations. Some people expect absurdly high quality, others are always skeptical and will turn to the disappointed crowd immediately upon hearing the finished product, no matter how good it is. In any case, a "supergroup" is immediately a matter of contention and argument. No matter what the style, quality or image is. And that's what works against the best interests of people in Barren Earth's case. Yes, it's reheated Amorphis in a sense, but that's not the whole story.
What the great grey masses tend to forget is the fact that the musicians are not necessarily interested in the expectations of the outside world. It may simply be a project to alleviate boredom or the feeling of musical stagnation. It could be just for fun, or for some money to buy a few beers or make the next mortgage payment on the house. Or, perhaps, it could be a case of making the music that was left undone two decades ago.
Barren Earth has a very distinctive sound. The music on Our Twilight, and the following full-length, Curse of the Red River, is a quite spectacularly successful mixture of Amorphis from the My Kantele or Elegy era and a variety of elements. The growls are deeper than anything Amorphis did before the Tomi Joutsen era, the music is even more 70s pro rock influenced than either of the mentioned albums, and the guitarwork and the synths are more heavily layered than ever before. What's more, the vocals and certain keyboard parts in the slower sections, taken out of the context of the whole songs, could well be off the albums of many established melodic doom-death bands… And wouldn't you know, there are people from such bands in the line-up.
The point of the EP is simply combining early mid-career Amorphis sound with an extra dose of 70s progressive rock and doom-death of the modern day. In the process, they happen to create sections that have a sound that parallels certain sections in Opeth's discography, but do it better than the Swedes usually do; the Opeth-esque parts are more obvious on Curse of the Red River, and even there Barren Earth's sound and compositions are more organic, more traditional, and less centered on creating an atmosphere. The guitar-driven quasi-folky tunes are miles closer to Amorphis than to any other band, though. That results in less acoustic noodlings and stretching the parts beyond their elastic yield points. The surprising difference between Our Twilight and Curse of the Red River is the fact that the latter is, as could be expected, a bit more polished, and has a more refined sound closer to that of the latest Finnish melodic doom-death bands. Unexpectedly, that is what makes it sound more like those above-mentioned sections of Opeth… Which is odd, considering the fact that Opeth, just like Barren Earth, has its musical roots on one the left side deep in the 70s prog rock. Why does adding some melodic doom-death aesthetics to the mix bring them closer to each other? Strange are the ways of sound engineers, chord progressions, and the subjective interpretations of individual pairs of ears, indeed.
…and that's pretty much it. Any over-analyzing and silly comparisons, especially by abusing the band's status as an alleged "supergroup" by using it as an argument either for or against them, is a waste of time. This EP and the follow-up album should be listened to without any expectations, and as a modernized version of the said ancient prog rock, not as a some über-metal supergroup. Because, hey, it seems more like a labour of love of a bunch of skilled musicians with plenty of personal history, than some calculated attempt at creating a commercial success or an album to end the history of all metal albums ever.
The truly surprising aspect of the EP are the guitars. While there are two ex-Amorphis members in the line-up, neither one of them plays a guitar on Our Twilight. And yet, the guitars have a very Amorphis-esque sound, and weave patterns that could well have been created by Holopainen and Koivusaari in the latter half of the 90s. Only, well, a bit deeper than what the Amorphis guitar layers were at the time, and with modernized sound. Perttilä plays crossover thrash/HC in the "surmacore" ("manslaughter-core") band Rytmihäiriö, and Yli-Sirniö is known for his long relationships with Waltari and Kreator. Both have probably stepped out of their supposed comfort zones, and do an impeccable job on the EP. It's the guitars, with their complexity and pattern-weaving, that carry the music of Barren Earth. And they carry it far and high.
In the final analysis, whether or not the EP is worthy of attention is a matter of taste, and it certainly has the necessary characteristics of an opinion-splitter. The supergroup illusion, the roots of the music that reach outside the metal realm, and even the melodic doom-death that ranks high among the pure metal genres hated by a lot of traditional metalheads, are all things that could well both irritate and charm people in unpredictable ways. For the fans of Amorphis' early days roughly from Tales to Elegy, this is likely to be a treat, not least because of the keyboard-work and the chosen production style, but still primarily because of the song-writing with the same foundation.
On the positive side, it is an unavoidable conclusion that the EP is definitely not a result of the "supergroup" methodology that in two cases out of three aims at maximum commercial success. No, the music is too complicated and difficult to get into to get much radio play, and a mind more infatuated than irritated indeed senses a joy of creating something on the four tracks. No, this is true music in the sense that it's more like music for music's worth than a breadwinner's gambit.
On the negative side, it has strayed some distance away from plain metal. But… is that really a bad thing? According to some purists, yes it is. According to others, it makes no difference and anyone claiming the opposite is a closed-minded bigot. According to yours truly, it's quite fine, as long as the wandering on the pastures of music are natural, and not forced or desperate genre-mixing and influence-seeking. And Barren Earth walks out to the fields, eats the greenery, and ruminates as an organic entity, finding its place in the natural setting, and doesn't look like an alchemist mixing random elements in his chamber, hoping to create something by blindly experimenting. Barren Earth goes wherever the music wants to take it.
It's very, very difficult not to like this on some level. Recommended, but with a caveat: give it a few spins before you curse it to hell. It might take some time to grow its roots into your brain, but the mycorrhizas will reward you with some musical paintings worth a little expenditure of time when it finally clicks.
Finland's newest supergroup boasts an impressive lineup, and with a signing to Peaceville Records, I predict waves will be made through this debut EP. Try not to gouge your eyes out when you get a load of this lineup, for Barren Earth is comprised of former and current members of: Amorphis, Alghazanth, Chaosbreed, Kreator, Waltari, Moonsorrow, October Falls, Mannhai, Swallow the Sun, and others. That's correct, it's a gang of professionals with a very professional sound.
Coming from such a diverse spectrum of bands, I was curious to hear what sounds would be summoned, and what Barren Earth arrive at is a stylish form of melodic death metal, often hinging on the doom metal elements that Amorphis once encompassed in their heyday (Elegy). The band incorporates a similar wealth of sound: keyboards for atmosphere, slow, melancholic guitar lines above the churning rhythm chords, and Mikko (Goat Tormentor of Alghazanth) gives it his best, low growls, also using some cleaner vocals. All of the four tracks on the EP are of the slower variety, and densely packed for the style, with more tranquil acoustic passages, acoustic pianos etc to offset the heavier moments.
Of the four, I preferred the soaring "Jewel" with its bombastic bridge and winding prog synth, and the closing "Floodred" which evoked a few spectral moments of sorrow, but even these did not fully meet my expectations. The songs are tightly performed and the material is mixed perfectly, but for all its atmosphere, I didn't find the writing all that enjoyable. Still, it's only an EP, from a brand new band, and the inevitable full-length is likely to cover a wider range of dynamics, so it will be interesting to hear once they settle in to the style.
The difference between a bunch of inexperienced musicians forming a band against that of experienced minds coming together in the formation of a new project is clinically evidenced in the new project named Barren Earth, featuring current and ex- members of Swallow the Sun, Moonsorrow, Kreator and Amorphis. This "Our Twilight" EP is a taster before we get the band's full-length debut early next year, which by the sounds of this EP should be an interesting listen for sure.
Opener "Our Twilight" is an edit of an extended version that will be on the album and serves a signpost of where the band come from and what their intentions are with this project. It is here that for once the label's promo blurb rings true as the four songs on offer combine "obscure psychedelic rock and Finnish prog...[travelling] through the realm of melodic brutality and keyboard-soaked atmosphere." In "Our Twilight" the band's obvious knack for creating sublime melodies with beautiful organ/keyboard backing gives off distinct whiffs of Amorphis and Sentenced I feel, all the while ending up close to the sound of recent Opeth material, which itself is accentuated by their increasing incorporation of the keys. The influence Sami Ylisirniö brings with his guitar from Kreator is subtly found in the layers of the EP not in the brutality of his master band but of the sweeping riffs and clever interplay he shares with Janne Perttilä, all being but one of the signs that this dynamic release suggests the meeting of trained minds in the quest to form another successful venture.
Again the blurb cannot be argued with in describing "The Flame Of Serenity" as an 'epic', based upon the keyboard performance of Kasper Mårtenson the song transforms from righteous prog to a more-Candlemass-than-Candlemass-themselves moment and back again, never in the process feeling hurried or unsophisticated. If you're in a developing band yourself and need some idea of how to construct a song with a great varience in moods and tempos you could do a lot worse than listen to "The Flame Of Serenity" for it effortlessly works it's way into the realms of 'great'. Closing with the "Floodred", no bad song in itself, Barren Earth have done enough to convince me in these 22 minutes that their debut album next year should be well worth the time spent getting to know.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net