Review Summary: A Complex Of Cages meets its expectations, but doesn’t surpass them.
Hailing from Finland, Barren Earth have always been considered a Frankenstein mix of Amorphis, Swallow The Sun and Opeth. And despite the grandiosity of those acts, Barren Earth walk a tightrope to manage a voice of their own. Bringing solid songwriting and a refined approach to the music found on their previous records in order to make an album that not only achieves high quality, but easily surpasses any predetermined level of expectation. A Complex Of Cages
presents itself as a restrained effort, combining what made the band so interesting on their debut, Curse Of The Red River
and again on their next two records, really hitting a defining stride with On Lonely Towers
(even with a vocalist change). For progressive metal, Barren Earth’s A Complex Of Cages
is a must hear album of 2018.
Fairly, the Amorphis references set the better part of twenty years ago may allow Barren Earth a predisposition for great music (sharing a member of Amorphis), but it’s the way this Finnish supergroup translate all the influences found within metal’s premier acts and bring them together, twisting a diverse soundscape into a textured, well-sought style without relying too much on filler. That’s not to say A Complex Of Cages
is flawless from top to bottom. Rather it’s flaws highlight the record’s better features, yet leave the listener wondering if something is still missing from the formula. Where certain tracks should excel from the band’s natural progressive nuances, those parts become drawn out in a whirlwind of overly flamboyant display of Jón Aldará’s clean vocal style and a buried melody from the group’s instrumental effort. This becomes a major pitfall of Barren Earth’s 2018 offering but can be overlooked if given to the right mindset.
In actual fact the album’s mixing and production actually limits the power that this Finnish “supergroup” are capable of. The leads find themselves buried under a wall of low end and audible bass. It hampers the progressive elements Barren Earth love to promote so much. The lead guitar and virtuosity can be compared to a child trying to get the attention of his/her parents while they’re deep in conversation. The effect is annoying, rather than supportive - only to be dealt with when the parents have finished. By measures of simple contrast, the production hasn’t completely missed the mark. While Jón Aldará‘s clean come with that dreaded “love or hate” tag, it’s his growls that reverberate throughout the album’s length and give credit to the Opeth-ian soundscape listeners will credit A Complex Of Cages
. It seems when the album needs to, it simply crushes and all at once. Take “Scatterprey” for example: The track itself hints at folk stylings without completely resigning to a cliche blending of deathened folk. The vocals blend a clean Kamelot with a Åkerfeldt-ish force that brings a nostalgic Blackwater Park
memory to those who want nothing more than another heavy Opeth record. The track itself also has the better display of the band’s more melodious side, easily noticeable in the opening moments of the song, never to outstay a welcome found within its (almost) six minute runtime.
With an overall runtime of an hour, A Complex Of Cages
unfortunately will drag in a few places. “Zeal” relies too heavily on a dystopian fed immersion, dragging its proverbial feet until Barren Earth decide to bring things back to a sense of normality. While the ten minute monolith “Solitude Pith” increasingly takes this sense of plodding melancholy to new levels, seemingly aimless, over indulging in its members technical ability. The band would’ve done well to shave a few minutes here and there before resorting to a full-force sonic destruction, resulting in a completely captivating listen.
By now I realise I’ve been quite critical of Barren Earth’s latest release. But it’s the album’s shortcomings that help keep things relatively interesting for the listener. A Complex Of Cages
is about as far away from being a bad release as the Sun is from Pluto. Barren Earth are proficient, defining just why they’re one of modern metal’s more relevant supergroups circa 2018. “The Ruby” and “Further Down” help highlight the group’s straightforward, yet dark songwriting without going overboard into a world of proggy noodling and over embellished keyboard sections. For what it’s worth, the imperfections found within help highlight the “better” parts, revealing a band that may not be perfect but is definitely willing to experiment on their sound until they do tick all the right boxes.
Overall, A Complex Of Cages
is an excellent record with the usual flaws of a modern progressive death metal band. Depending on preferences some parts will entice and excite new listeners, while completely distancing others, and vice versa. If you aren’t a fan of the group’s previous records it’s highly unlikely that the 2018 edition of Barren Earth will convert you. Comparatively, if you are a fan of the music found within On Lonely Towers
and the debut, Curse Of The Red River
then you’re unlikely to be dissatisfied with the band’s newest offering, but still waiting for this supergroup to act on the potential it clearly has.