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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 - www.metalegion.com