Aside from being one of the few countries that Scotland can still beat at football, the Faroe Islands have very few claims to fame, however after listening to Barren Earth they can add the fact that they are the birthplace of possibly the finest vocalist in metal to that list.
Faroese vocalist Jón Aldará joined the band in 2014 and while he sang on their previous album On Lonely Towers, new album ‘A Complex of Cages’ is the first where he has contributed to the songwriting process. How much he has added to that process is debatable but there is no doubt that his voice has elevated the band to a whole new level. It sweeps from operatic, to a Scott Walker-esque croon, to a powerful death growl seamlessly. He would sound equally at home doing Les Miserables as he would doing Deicide covers.
The music too is equally varied and accomplished, unsurprising considering they consist of veterans of the metal scene who have previously plied their trade with the likes of Kreator, Moonshadow and Amorphis. If there is such a thing as a Finnish death metal supergroup then Barren Earth are it. The band describe themselves as Progressive Death Metal combining elements of modern and traditional death metal, with ‘70s prog rock and folk. In truth the folk amounts to little more than the occasional moment where they drift into III-era Led Zeppelin territory. Also, for those put off by the progressive or death tags, the band sit very much at the accessible end of the spectrum of both styles. This is a remarkably well-crafted set of songs in a genre that is given to excess, indulgence and the oblique. Even their logo looks like a softened, legible version of the usual extreme metal script.
Bookended by the urgent, melodic drive of ‘The Living Fortress’ and the ethereal beauty of ‘Withdrawal’ the album swells in between drawing your focus to the middle coupling of ‘Scatterprey’ and ‘Solitude Pith’, a pairing that is both epic and elegant and despite a combined length of over 16 minutes never seems to drag. Again this is testament to a band who have honed their art over time and are confident in their ability to create huge sounding, grandiose songs without making them bloated or outstaying their welcome.
If this all makes it sound like this is wonderful album then that’s because it is. It is full of wonder, it is majestic and graceful and powerful. And yet, for some reason it feels as if something is missing, an indescribable quality that the great albums have that this one doesn’t. Logically ‘A Complex of Cages’ is a brilliant album on every level but emotionally it lacks perhaps a little bit of character that would make it truly stand out. It seems churlish to criticise a record that is so expertly made but despite there being so much to like about it, but it seems a little too much like an exercise in technical brilliance rather than one from the heart. Ultimately it is an album that washes over you without ever really seeping into your soul.
Barren Earth are:
Jón Aldara - Vocals
Olli-Pekka Laine - Bass
Sami Yli-Sirniö - Guitars
Janne Perttilä - Guitars
Kasper Mårtenson - Keyboards
Marko Tarvonen - Drums
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