Formed in Helsinki in 2007 by Amorphis bassist Olli-Pekka Laine and Moonsorrow drummer Marko Tarvonen, Finnish act Barren Earth‘s current line-up is completed by guitarist Janne Perttilä, new keyboard player Antti Myllynen, Faroese vocalist Jón Aldará, and the band’s most notable member, Kreator guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö.
A Complex of Cages (Century Media), the band’s fourth full-length release, sees the Finns producing more of their style of Opeth meets Jethro Tull progressive Death Metal but a little more refined and smoother around the edges. With its keyboard-laden intro and technical proggy riffing, opener ‘The Living Fortress’ sets out its stall from the start, settling into an almost Spanish acoustic style number before exploding into churning Death Metal riffs and double kick drumming. Suiting all sides of their music perfectly, Aldará’s voice has a semi-operatic quality to it that quickly shifts into a fearsome Death Metal roar whenever it needs to.
Beginning with a tasty riff and some low-end harmonics, ‘Ruby’ is a more straightforward affair than the opening track. Suitably tight, but loosening up for the choruses where the growls perform as back-up to the clean vocals. ‘Further Down’ and ‘Zeal’ are both darkly atmospheric in different ways, the former featuring quirky, offbeat keys not altogether dissimilar to Maryland madmen Dog Fashion Disco.
‘Scatterprey’ sounds like Orphaned Land and Kamelot had a baby, ‘Solitude Pith’ is a slow and moody, adventurous ten minutes of Opeth style goodness where the band find the perfect balance between light and shade. The excellent ‘Dysphoria’, like most songs on the album, seems intent on keeping its best moments hidden until a few minutes in. ‘Spire’ flexes its muscles as simple(ish) tech death before the familiar clean vocals and luxuriant melodies kick in with some nice bass work and Opeth style guitar phrases, and another song with a big Seventies Pink Floyd vibe, ‘Withdrawal’, closes out the album.
Although clearly a well-constructed album performed by skilled musicians, A Complex… does occasionally fall into the prog-pit of repetition and self-indulgence, and every now and again the more uncomplicated death metal material can find itself struggling to keep up with the more interesting, technical, atmospheric and proggier aspects. However, those are just minor quibbles on an otherwise excellent record.