Barren Earth // Curse of the Red River
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —Stellar
Label: Peaceville
Websites: barrenearth.com | myspace.com/officialbarrenearth
Release Dates: EU: 29.03.2010 | US: 04.06.2010

Barren Earth took me completely by surprise. As a rule I do not post reviews of records from labels that do not send me promos of them. I think it’s a disincentive for them to do so and generally bands don’t deserve the promotion. However, sometimes bands come onto the radar that I can’t ignore, as is what happened when I picked up this new Barren Earth record on a total whim. In fact, I didn’t even know that this band had ex-members from Amorphis, the drummer from Moonsorrow, the guitarist from Kreator or the vocalist from Swallow the Sun involved, or that it was mixed by Dan Swano. I guess I should have expected that this would be a great record…

And great it is. No normal “super group” kind of album (you know, the kind that lacks a soul), this project has taken time to gestate and turn into a real band and the listener definitely gets that feel. If we start at the top and work our way down; one of the thing that stands out about this project is definitely how cohesive the record is. This is not an album with a “hit or two,” but instead a complete album that flows beautifully and is meant to be listened to from beginning to end every time you break it out. Not to say that the tracks aren’t strong, because they really, really are. The opening track on the album “Curse of the Red River” blends death metal pig squeels with a Jethro Tullesque flute solo and excellent melancholic melodic riffing. “Flicker”, another of my favorites, twists and turns from strumming acoustic guitars to machine gun double bass and bestial growls and back, showing off what dynamics can do for a band who is intent on using them to their full extent.

Curse of the Red River is, if you haven’t figured it out, the unholy union of Amorphis and Opeth. If you take Still Life and Blackwater Park era Opeth and mixed it with Elegy and Tuonela-era Amorphis, this is probably what it would sound like. You can hear the kind of mid-paced melodies that you get from those mid-era Armophis albums, for sure. But with the vocal breadth and dynamism that vocalist Mikko Kotamäki displays gives this a much deeper, heavier feel than anything they were putting out during that era. His vocals stand out from the background and offer that perfect contrast, with a good, smooth clean tone and amazing growls which give a force to the tracks that would be sorely missing if performed by anyone else.

The band, in what is quickly becoming a progressive death metal genre in the wake of Opeth‘s gigantic popularity, does an excellent job of blending the styles of doom and death metal with beautiful clean vocals and acoustic parts. However, unlike some bands who are intent on sticking clean vocals into the music, these guys aren’t just building tracks that are throwaway vehicles for a big chorus. Instead, they have all the intensity and melancholy that you expect of the genre and the band involved. On top of that, Barren Earth has a sense for catchy guitar melodies that really stick in your head, leaving the listener humming them for hours after listening to the record.

My biggest complaint about this album, honestly, is that it’s a little too easy to draw the continuous comparisons to Amorphis and Opeth as I’ve done here. Particularly the former band is ever-present in their sound. This isn’t bad, but one wonders if in the long run this will sit well with listeners, or if they won’t just go back and take out Elegy and Tales from the Thousand Lakes and relive something that happened a couple decades ago. While I personally think that this record will probably rank high at the end of the year list, I think there is a possible critique with it being considered too derivative and thereby losing some if its credibility. But personally, this Angry Metal Guy thinks that’s bullshit and will be listening to this album in as much free time as he can spare…

‘Cause it’s fucking great.