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Creativity uncaged - 84%

gasmask_colostomy, March 26th, 2019

Barren Earth keep getting bigger. That’s the feeling one gets listening to each successive album from the Finnish supergroup (featuring alumni of Amorphis, Kreator, Moonsorrow), and A Complex of Cages sees the six-piece anything but caged in by their compositions. Heading in both heavier and lighter directions on various of the nine lengthy songs, Jón Aldará’s distinctive voice keeps the band anchored in their own niche of (old) prog/melo-(doom)death, which is as creative and much more organized than such a genre description suggests.

Compared to 2015’s On Lonely Towers, the new album cuts back some of the instrumental and story-telling girth, though still leaves copious adventures for Opeth fans to get moist about. Sadly, nothing hits as sweetly as did the chorus rush of ‘Howl’, but some of the heaviness spilling out of the more direct opening pair is harder-hitting, ‘Ruby’ bursting into lurching chugging riffs before backing a swooning chorus with acoustic guitars, while the distorted samples and skittering keyboards in ‘The Living Fortress’ show an alternate path in Dream Theater’s recent evolution. Indeed, the introduction of Antti Myllynen to the line-up before the album’s creation has left Barren Earth more driven by keys than ever, synths and piano forming the backbone of slower workouts like ‘Dysphoria’ and the dramatic building ‘Solitude Pith’, which both go to show the Finns’ line in memorable titles.

The widening gap between the two extremes of Barren Earth’s sound poses the only significant problem to an album of otherwise rich and diverting music. How many fans of both crushing alien doom death and extended Moog workouts will appreciate the diversity of ‘Spire’ and ‘Solitude Pith’ when they sit side by side? Likewise, Aldará’s oddly pious clean vocals form a very odd contrast with the barked harsh vocals, plus the modern metal breakdowns and energetic riffing rub up against rhythmic experimentation. However, if all those disparate elements simply sound like a bigger playground on which to enjoy Barren Earth’s music, you’ve probably grasped the essential purpose of A Complex of Cages.

Originally written for Metalegion #4 -

A complex of soothing atmospheres - 85%

kluseba, June 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Century Media Records (Digipak)

Barren Earth is classified as progressive melodic death metal band but one has to point out that the group's fourth full length effort A Complex of Cages convinces with smooth flow, enchanting melodies and quite charismatic clean vocals inspired by a minimal Middle East timbre that blends in perfectly. It's no surprise that this album recalls a band like Amorphis when it released Elegy more than two decades earlier since Amorphis' former and now again current bassist Olli-Pekka Laine founded this band. Those who like intellectual progressive folk metal bands like Arkan should also give this release a chance.

There are several elements that make this album stand out. First of all, it has a very smooth flow and the generous running time of more than an hour but only nine songs passes by very quickly. Secondly, the band has a talent to come around with soothing melodies which are sometimes carried by the guitars, at times also by the keyboards and in some cases by both instruments. The musicianship never tries to show off like so many other progressive bands do and always serves the atmospheric impact of every single song. The clean vocals work wonderfully as they are very distinctive, enchanting and expressive, recalling at times Middle Eastern chants. The production is quite airy and adds to the impression that the album invites the listener onto a magical journey.

If I had to pick a song that immediately stood out, I would have to mention the wonderful ''Further Down''. Powerful growls meet dramatic clean vocals. Beuatiful keyboard and piano sounds are contrasted by a steady rhythm section and grounded riifs. Timid acoustic guitar and flamenco passages are cleverly interwoven. The song unfolds emotive atmospheres through six and a half wonderfully imaginative minutes. The track reminds me of a mixture between Opeth and Orphaned Land. You should check this song out and if you like it, you should give the entire record a spin.

There are only a few minor elements to criticize on this beautiful album. The death metal vocals are solid but aren't quite distinctive enough if compared to the charismatic clean vocals. The extreme metal riffs could be a little bit more intense from time to time to contrast the more epic soundscapes. The production could be a little bit more powerful as well.

In the end, you should expect a progressive metal album with melodic folk elements instead of a challenging extreme metal output. Aside a few isolated riffs and the harsh vocals, this album doesn't have anything to do with death or doom metal. That's why some people might dislike this album's direction but in my personal case, A Complex of Cages is exactly my cup of tea. It reminds me of the time when Amorphis became more epic, experimental and melodic with albums like Tuonela and Am Universum without exactly copying this particular style. This atmospheric album is a grower and deserves more attention than it has received so far as it's one of the best records of the year.