Review Summary: Barren Earth bypass a common failing of super groups and make an excellent progressive death metal album.
Super groups of any given genre are infamously known for being hit and miss affairs. Since the members themselves are from bands that are often successful and/or popular, one would naturally expect great albums from these conglomerations of experienced and well-toned skill. However, what has proven to happen again and again throughout music's recent history, relatively speaking, is that the actual releases are often, though not all ways, poor representatives of the potential and talent that supposedly went into crafting the given album. The formula is there for success, it would seem - it’s just that the chemistry we would hope these “super players” would have together as songwriters is clearly not.
Barren Earth are a successful super group that take the skill and promise that was displayed in their past bands and apply it to a new progressive death metal project that is brimming with the results of a powerful songwriting chemistry found amongst its members. In the world of extreme metal, the band’s lineup is hard to match: Moonsorrow drummer Marko Tarvonen, Kreator guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö, Swallow The Sun vocalist Mikko Kotamäki, and Amorphis ex-keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson – oh yeah, and their first album, Curse Of The Red River
, is mixed by the one and only Dan Swano
. Sound interesting? Well, you’ll be happy to know that the eight-song full-length does not disappoint in the least, carefully avoiding the failings of many past super groups.
Barren Earth first gave us a glimpse of their brand of growls and melodic, intricate leads with EP Our Twilight
late last year, and since then they have taken strides to collectively coordinate their songwriting and playing sessions to give us one of the most consistent extreme metal albums of 2010. The band’s sound is best described as a mixture of Opeth and mid-career Amorphis, as acoustic interludes and clean smooth, calm vocal passages scatter and buffer the more firm, distorted riffing and growled vocal sections throughout Curse of The Red River
’s playing time. There is also an element of melodic death metal at play here as well, drawing comparisons to last year’s Stone's Reach
from Australia’s Be’lakor, with a fair bit of Insomnium-like melodies thrown in the mix, too.
It’s impressive how well Barren Earth stretch their progressive death metal formula throughout Curse Of The Red River
, rarely ever becoming monotonous and predictable while delivering guitar and vocal melodies pristinely crafted to the ravenous mind consumption of their victims. “The Leer” acts as this album’s “The Killjoy”; guitarists Sami Yli-Sirniö and Janne Perttilä bounce off and supplement each other with a speedy progressive pace, while vocalist Mikko Kotamäki switches between his growl and his kiss with a finesse that sounds wholly natural. Everything has a purpose here on Curse Of The Red River
- mind you, this is not another Fall Of Icons
where most of the music is being played well, sure, but there is a lack of any distinct features and standouts within the music, as well as any collective picture the band might have had in mind. Where Ikuinen Kaimos failed us earlier this year, Barren Earth succeed valiantly in their efforts.
Barren Earth keep the nine tracks presented here roughly around the same length – five to seven minutes – and in doing do, combined with how well they play and intertwine their instruments, the band is able to keep our attention all the way through Curse Of The Red River
, with nay a moment of boring yawn. Things like a flute solo that gives a nod to Jethro Tull pop up in the opening title track to keep things exciting and unexpected, and even a folk-influenced flair can be heard in the acoustic passages that dot such numbers as the aforementioned title cut, “Flicker”, and “The Ritual of Dawn”. Heck, even a Viking-esque foundation of growled re-telling melodies comprises the build of “Forlorn Waves” and the more morose closer “Deserted Morrows”. It’s hard to pick a clear standout from the album, though; but that’s really just because everything is played so well throughout on Cure Of The Red River
. Barren Earth have succeeded in making an excellent, consistent album as a super group, adding a bit of flair to a sub-genre that has recently seen signs of dwindling, and also bypassing a common roadblock that many groups of this nature often run into: the band's skill and the band's chemistry
is put to use effectively for a great offering.