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Good fusion of death with prog and folk - 65%

Gallifrey337, January 21st, 2013

Barren Earth - “The Devil’s Resolve”
13/20

44th place album of the year 2012

Barren Earth are a ‘supergroup’ of sorts. Created out of current and former members of two of my favourite bands in the melodeath scene, Amorphis and Swallow the Sun, and a few other bands I will have to check out, Moonsorrow, Rytmihäiriö and Kreator. The band focuses on the progressive side of melodeath, as opposed to the doom and thrash of the bands it is formed from. “The Devil’s Resolve” is the band’s second full-length, continuing their style of merging melodic death metal and 70’s progressive rock, along with other genres such as folk.

Like any band who uses both clean and growled vocals, many will make comparisons to Swedish cousins Opeth, and there are plenty to be found on this album. Barren Earth utilize the same acoustic sections Opeth have become known for, specifically in opener “Passing of the Crimson Shadows” and “Vintage Warlords”. There are also hints of the heavily slide-based riffage of Opeth, specifically during “Oriental Pyre”, where we hear the dual acoustic and distorted guitars of early Opeth works.

“Oriental Pyre” also draws elements from Mikko Kotamäki’s other band Swallow the Sun, with the spoken-word vocals STS use to create their doomy atmosphere. “The Dead Exiles” also contains a very doom laden first few minutes, which could have fit perfectly on any Swallow the Sun album.

Despite being a death metal band, Barren Earth utilize clean vocal melodies excellently, in a similar manner to Amorphis. “Passing of the Crimson Shadows”, “The Rains Begin” and “Where All Stories End” all have very strong chorus hooks.

The folk and progressive elements are alive in “The Rains Begin” and “As It Is Written”, my two favourite songs on the album. “As It Is Written” begins with a hint of bagpipes, but unfortunately they do not play a huge role in the rest of the song, as I have not heard many good uses of bagpipes in metal outside of laughable folk metal bands. The growled vocals over a Hammond organ in “The Rains Begin” is quite surreal, but is actually one of the highlights of the album, merging a very retro and 70’s sounding instrument with a modern style of music. Both of these songs have folk-influenced riffs, which carry on to very good choruses, and “As It Is Written” has my personal favourite part of the album, the extended piano bridge.

The only real downfall of this album is the growling. I have never been a fan of growling, but over the years I have come to tolerate and even enjoy it, but Mikko Kotamäki’s throaty rumble hear renders lyrics indistinguishable, and often overpowers the very well written guitar parts. Of course, there are always exceptions, and I think that the chorus of “The Rains Begin” contains the best use of the death growls, but again they would be better if the lyrics were more distinguished and he didn’t sound like he had a cold during recording.

Overall a solid effort, although the quality does begin to wane in the second half. If the band can continue to come up with great riffs as the ones in “The Rains Begin” and “As It Is Written” and great choruses as in “Passing of the Crimson Shadows” and “Where All Stories End”, and clean up the growled vocals, then we have a very unique band with a hopeful future.

Originally posted at my facebook page/blog http://www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

It Removes Tough Stains . . . and It's Evil! - 70%

FullMetalAttorney, September 14th, 2012

As far as normal people are concerned, a famous musician is only allowed to be in one band. If they hear that someone is going to be in a different one, they assume the old band broke up. This was something about metal that, for me at least, took some getting used to. Every band has a revolving door (or two), and nobody is a member of just one band.

Given this environment, it's pretty tough to say what's a supergroup, and what's just a "side project" or a second (or third, or eighth) band, or who's famous enough to make a true supergroup. But by any reasonable standard, Barren Earth qualifies, featuring as it does members or ex-members of Amorphis, Swallow the Sun, and Kreator. The Devil's Resolve is their second full-length album.

I reviewed their first album when it came out. My conclusion at the time was that it sounded just like Elegy-era Amorphis. That's still true, for the most part, but they have branched out somewhat. They've cranked up the 70's prog (check the awesome organ/guitar interplay of "The Rains Begin"), and gone Opethian in places (especially "Oriental Pyre"). They've also flirted with death/doom, as on "The Dead Exiles," which ends up sounding like you might expect--a combination of Amorphis and Swallow the Sun.

The other major area of improvement is in the use of Mikko Kotamäki's vocal abilities. Whether it be through arrangement or the excellent Dan Swanö mix job, his clean vocals are no longer overpowered.

It's not all improvement, though. They occasionally go off the deep end with prog wank, especially the last two interminable minutes of "As It Is Written," with its ridiculously long and stupid keyboard solo. This could be the result of taking the bad 70's prog with the good, or lack of an established band method for eliminating garbage. But still, they've got a good thing here.

The Verdict: Improved in some ways, but not in others, The Devil's Resolve is a step forward and a step back for the supergroup. If you liked their first record, there's no reason not to like this one, so once again I would recommend it to fans of mid-90's Amorphis, and also to fans of prog metal generally.

originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/

Dynamic, progressive brilliance - 87%

Andromeda_Unchained, July 9th, 2012

Barren Earth should require little introduction, this Finnish supergroup have been kicking it since 2007 and this is their second full-length release “The Devil’s Resolve”. Welding Melodic Death Metal with 70’s style Progressive Rock, Barren Earth are the sonic equivalent of a winning lottery ticket for a prog-nut like me.

Take “Elegy” period Amorphis, add healthy doses of mid-period Opeth and Edge of Sanity roll up and smoke said concoction to the sounds of Riverside or Porcupine Tree and once the haze clears you’ll be facing Barren Earth. If you enjoyed the latest In Mourning album I reviewed then this one will be right up your street, and is certainly of a similar quality. A good base of comparison from the get-go, and as far as production goes is if you did hear the latest In Mourning, “The Devil’s Resolve” is a much warmer sounding album, and definitely feels a little more natural.

The proceedings kick off in style on “The Devil’s Resolve”. From the push of the play button a volume swell paves the way for a dark and dirty theme, with a slight Doom Metal edge. The articulation and build is superb; “Passing of the Crimson Shadows” is the ideal opener, with excellent dynamic it really works its magic in introducing the listener to the album, and the band. The vocal approach is that of a balance between clean and harsh, and I honestly believe Mikko Kotamäki is at his best with Barren Earth, his clean vocals are particularly well done here, reminding of the British Progressive Rock acts from the 70’s. “The Rains Begins” absolutely reeks of Amorphis, featuring lush melodies, excellent layered vocals, and a tremendous prog section in the middle. “Vintage Warlords” is a song which shows exactly what Barren Earth are about and would be a good one for new listeners to check out. Rounding off the first half of “The Devil’s Resolve” is “As It Is Written” which almost ends up being the weakest on the album, if not for some great guitar melodies and a breathtaking piano segment in the middle.

The prog elements are very well played on “The Devil’s Resolve” and I feel as though the band put forth a fairly interesting take on the genre, especially when taking into account the Progressive Death Metal side. Of course the Metal scene is no stranger to Progressive Metal bands lending from the 70’s glory days, however Barren Earth succeed in flawlessly incorporating that style into their sound, and save a few Dan Swanö related acts and select Opeth I’d say this was some of the finest material in the Progressive Death Metal niche.

The second half of the album crawls along with the dirge of “The Dead Exiles” which is a bonafide highlight. The first half of the track is dark and oppressive with Doom Metal pacing, which slowly builds into an absolutely stomping riff that demands a nodding head at the very least. The flame ignited in “The Dead Exiles” burns right through the superb “Oriental Pyre”. “White Fields” takes us on to the final stretch of the album, and probably stands as the weakest on “The Devil’s Resolve”, although some strong riffage keeps it from totally missing the mark. Closing the show is the haunting “Where All Stories End” which rounds off the album in great form, giving the listener a sense of finality. One of the more melodic numbers, with some of the finer vocal lines served up on the album.

Admittedly “The Devil’s Resolve” did require a few listens for it to fully gel. It wasn’t until I sat down and truly focused on the album and each of its aspects that I fully appreciated what Barren Earth had done. A dynamic, progressive album; “The Devil’s Resolve” should be high priority for any Progressive Metal fan. There is a suitable level of depth here that will keep the listener coming back for more which is one of the many reasons why “The Devil’s Resolve” is a such a special release.

Originalyl written for http://www.metal-observer.com

A wonderful surprise - 95%

androdion, March 12th, 2012

The Devil’s Resolve marks the return of Finnish supergroup Barren Earth after a very successful first collaboration only two years ago, with the band unleashing yet another great effort that’s bound to conquer the metal world.

People in the metal world tend to dislike supergroup collaborations. This happens for many reasons amongst which we can find the typical backlash against a favourite musician or composer for indulging in something different than his everyday band, or the fact that the quality output of said supergroup isn’t on par with the intervenient members’ main body of work. The fact is that the metal community tends to frown upon this type of releases in order to avoid bigger disappointments, as many of them turn out to be. With that being said supergroups sometimes happen to work very well and Barren Earth seems to fall into this category of success. Their first album, Curse Of The Red River, was warmly received when it came out in 2010, with people lauding them for having the guts to release a record that despite bearing similarities with some of the members’ bands was still very much enjoyable and fresh. This year’s release, named The Devil’s Resolve, is again a statement made into the heart of the metal world, a cry of affirmation that in its thundering roar comes to say that this band is here to stay!

With members having participated in international acts such as Amorphis, Swallow The Sun, Moonsorrow and Kreator to name some of the most famous, this is a group that can easily work its way around quality songwriting as their past works have proven us. I admit that I approached this record without having heard their debut and their strange and uncanny brew of melodic and progressive death metal, mixed with doom and folk elements struck me as something unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Well almost, but I’ll get back to that in a bit. Their progressive leanings turn to Edge Of Sanity’s interweaving of complex flowing patterns as much as the lengthier and epic passages of Opeth, but at the same time there’s this unavoidable feeling and hovering presence of the 70’s progressive rock scene. Many times the guitars and synths will go into territories travelled before by other bands such as King Crimson or Rush, carrying a very melodic approach and a subtle sense of psychedelia with it. There are even moments where I could swear it’s the almighty himself Ritchie Blackmore on the guitars, as his playing style is also present. The folk component found here is transpired by some acoustic and Celtic sounding melodies that give an added flavour to the music being delivered.

The album’s opener, “Passing Of The Crimson Shadows”, starts as a creepy nod to the beginning of the progressive metal scene, with the complex rhythms of its rock-based forefather being mixed with heavy riffs and howling growls spewing forth words of desolation behind a wall of melody that forms besides it. The wailing of the clean singing carries the music alongside the rhythm section, where the bass and drums put out their best attempts at layering the sorrow tinged guitars. The song drops down into a bleak atmospheric passage where the resonance of the keys along with the howling wind makes for this absolutely beautiful atmosphere, before it all explodes again in bellowing roars and haunting guitar leads. And if this wasn’t already impressive enough then the following song, “The Rains Begin” hits you immediately with its folk tinged keyboard opening and its marvelous guitars that lead you through the green pastures during springtime blooming. This is where the first moments reminiscent of Mr. Blackmore begin to show themselves and for a moment I’m carried away into the year of 1976 and into the marvelous tunes of Rising.

I said earlier that I hadn’t heard anything similar to this band in terms of the mixture applied on their different elements; the obvious references to bands like Opeth, especially in the monstrous riff of “Vintage Warlords”, Edge Of Sanity and its enticing intertwining of melodies shown on “Oriental Pyre”, or Amorphis for the obvious folk leanings of Tales From The Thousand Lakes that appear in “The Rain Begins” and “As It Is Written”. There are also death/doom elements present from time to time and the carving up made on your soul by the start of “The Dead Exiles” is a great example of it, with its slow pace and cavernous growls that give away a sense of impending doom. All of these seemingly disparate elements are as present as the nods to Rainbow or Rush, and the brewing achieved by Barren Earth is indeed unique. However, I can’t seem to ditch the hovering presence of Dan Swano’s Moontower album while listening to The Devil’s Resolve. That album has been many times described with a single line, “If Rush played death metal in the 70’s”, and to me this Finnish project feels very much as if the wheels on that train of thought were finally being put in motion and the practical expansion of the ideas on Dan’s solo album were now finally blooming.

This album features so many different elements that pointing all of them out would take me more time and wording that I can bear, so I’ll leave you with the above thoughts along with a final conclusion that simply reads, Barren Earth are back and they portray their music with a rekindling passion and a quality delivery that is very much needed in the metal world today. In a moment where bigger names seem to be stepping down a notch in terms of quality writing and creative output, this Finnish supergroup is here to act as victor and claim the spoils of others’ defeats. At the same time they’re beginning to carve a name for themselves that is bound to be set in stone if future efforts bring us anything as good and impressively fresh as The Devil’s Resolve. This album is quite amazing to listen to and even more to comprehensively apprehend as the magnificent piece of art that it is. Some may argue that this is different for the sake of being different, or that there are too many nods to already established bands. I simply say to enjoy it for what it is, a fantastic amalgamation of discrepant elements glued together in such a smooth way that you’ll have trouble finding its limiting edges. Fantastically varied in its approach and immensely fun, this is an album that’s going to be discussed a lot during the next few years.


Originally written for and posted at Riff Magazine