Barren Earth coverBarren Earth may be the only band I ever forgive for not giving me an audition to be their vocalist. After it was announced that Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow the Sun) was leaving the band and that they were publicly searching for a singer, I screwed up my courage and dropped them an email with some songs. Being that I am “the standard by which all should be judged” (which is why I started a blog), I was duly shocked, dismayed and offended that they never even sent me a kindly rejection letter. Nay, despite my obvious superiority over my inevitable competition and home just across the gulf of Bothnia (duty free, motherfuckers!), Barren Earth turned their tacit, Finnish backs to my email. So I’ve been working on a brutal take down of the obvious amateur they were going to replace Mikko with when the record that we now know is called On Lonely Towers came out. Unfortunately, I had to tear up the notes on which I had scribbled my not-at-all-self-aggrandizing introduction, because I have at last met my match.

Jón Aldará (of the Faroese funeral doomsters Hamferð) should be a household name after On Lonely Towers releases. While I will get into what makes Barren Earth work musically later, this just needs to be said: rarely has a vocalist been replaced in a metal band as successfully as Aldará’s takeover of the microphone o’ doom for these Finnish post-Amorpethers1. On Lonely Towers is a record dominated by one of the most unique and powerful voices that heavy metal has ever heard. Aldará’s clean tones are throaty, likely untrained, but rich and full of heart. He sings like a man whose emotions want to burst out of his chest, only to have been siphoned off via his throat just in time. His growls are brutal and raspy, and while they don’t separate him so much from his predecessor, he brings a power to the music that few vocalists will or, well, can muster.

It helps that Barren Earth has found its way again compositionally after a sophomore record that I haven’t listened to since it was released. Given the power of debut Curse of the Red River, I have a very special place in my heart for these guys; but a sophomore slump and a new vocalist could well have meant that their days of promise were over. Fortunately, On Lonely Towers is an epic record loaded to the brim with songs that show the band at its very best. Barren Earth‘s sound ca 2015 is a great combination of what reminds me of Elegy era Amorphis, with a touch of Opeth-y death riffery (which has begun to take more of a back seat compared to the earlier material), and mixed in with a healthy dose of doom that puts the overall tone of this record close to The Devil’s Resolve.

Barren Earth pic1

On Lonely Towers is a long record, but it bursts out the gate for the first 26 minutes with a brilliant series of tracks. These demonstrate Aldará’s vocal acuity while showing off that a few years down has sharpened the band’s riffing dramatically. “Howl” is immense, starting out with a hook that got me invested in the record immediately, and immediately evokes Amorphis in what I can only assume is Oppu Laine’s influence, before dropping into dirgey doom metal stylings. While “Frozen Processions” has a gorgeous keyboard intro and is a generally straight-forward rocker, it has a transcendent chorus when Aldará’s cleans break loose. And after the doomy “A Shapeless Derelict,” the record crests into what might be the best song on the record: “Set Alight,” a song that is simultaneously moody and noodly, and has so much going on that it crackles like bottled lightning!

The crest of “Set Alight” crashes pretty hard on the title track “On Lonely Towers,” which breaks the flow of an otherwise stellar album. At nearly 12 minutes long, it’s a song that is less than the sum of its parts. While the introduction is moody and beautiful, and the outro of the track features some excellent guitar work from axemen Perttilä and Yli-Sirniö, there’s a stretch of about 4 and a half minutes in the middle that probably should just have been edited out. Still, “Chaos of the Songs Within” picks up the flow again and closer “The Vault” features some spectacular melodic work at about the halfway mark through its 11:07 that wanders into Camel territory and makes the prog nerd in me jump for joy.

At 64 minutes, though, On Lonely Towers creaks under its own weight. Ironically, for me, the weakest link is the title track itself. When I remove that from the playlist, I think the album flows with beautiful feel and feels like a whole that is even greater than all of its individual songs: a truly cohesive record. When I listen to the album with “On Lonely Towers” included, the flow crumbles right in the middle and I have trouble picking up the pieces. And while I’m complaining: DR6. Sure, the sound isn’t horrible, but it’s pretty flat once I normalized it, and that’s always a disappointment coming from a band whose currency is their dynamic sound and their moody atmosphere.

But when all is said and done On Lonely Towers is still a mighty record from a band with new-found life in a vocalist who is truly among the most unique I have ever heard, and who leaves his own mark on Barren EarthOn Lonely Towers is a powerful, exciting return to form for Finland’s superest of super group and is neck-and-neck with other amazing records released in March in the running for Record o’ the Month.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: V0 mp3
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: barrenearth.com | facebook.com/barrenearth
Release Dates: US: 2015.03.23 | EU: 2015.03.30

Show 1 footnote

  1. Though, now that I’m thinking about it, see: Amorphis.

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  • El_Cuervo

    For fucks sake, more money to spend. I’ve bought so much music this month

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Agreed. If this trend continues into April, I might have to stop visiting this site to avoid temptation. I’ve already had to dig into our groceries fund, and now my wife’s complaining that the kids are hungry. “Priorities”, I tell her, but, unbelievably, she doesn’t agree. Kids… always something.

      • basenjibrian

        Bring back the days when I had to visit the two decent record stores 60 miles away to even hope to find interesting metal. Now, it’s just a mouse click and 60 US$ is gone.

      • Feed them metal?

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Hmmmm…

      • De2013

        “I might have to stop visiting this site to avoid temptation.” I was thinking the same thing!

        Tell her “My love, musical education is a gift for life” or something…

        • Monsterth Goatom

          First I have to wean my kids off Taylor Swift and Katy Pery. However, the other day I was singing some Visigoth to myself, and now one of my daughters goes around singing “Immortal blood courses through my veins!” So there is hope.

          • De2013

            Good good ! There’s certainly hope. My daughter had a phase where she totally loved Amon Amarth’s Twilight of the Thundergod. “Louder daddy, Louder”. Luckily for her she’s into more girly music right now. Haha.

          • Carl Anderson

            You gotta be careful. My 6-year-old daughter likes Katy Perry, though after I taught her some metal .. sure, she can hum the riff to “Iron Man”, but she also digs Babymetal. On the other hand … that’s still a darned sight better than Justin Bieber. ;)

      • The first hit was free, but now you gotta pay up…

    • One way I have restrained this spending is by paying for Google Play Music. I buy the truly essential stuff via bandcamp and live with streaming everything else. And I just buy physical/vinyl when it’s trully special stuff. Shipping and handling costs can easily double the cost of whatever I want to get in “real” medium.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Pretty much like what I do, though I subscribe to Rdio, which imo has a honkin’ huge selection of music. Not sure how it works in Google Play, but Rdio allows you to set the bit quality of the stream as high as 320 kbps. Don’t know if that’s just a gimmick or for real, but the streams always sound great to me.

        Likewise, I buy the essential stuff, partly to support the artists I really like. Sometimes I’ll also buy releases by young bands that show great potential, especially since those are often name-your-price deals.

        • Pretty much the same as GPS, also you can set the streaming quality and you can even download music a couple of times if you wanna hear offline,and play as long you have a subscription. And the music selection had been steadily growing, which is great because I can usually find stuff that’s not available on bandcamp nor Spotify

  • Well, this is exciting. I had no idea they had another album in the works and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really anticipating one after The Devil’s Resolve. I wouldn’t say it is a bad album by any means, but nothing about it draws me back for repeat listens.

  • Pimpolho

    God danmit! So much freaking good records this month!

  • nunka

    AMG, I could not disagree more with your praise for New Guy. Mikko Kotamäki is simply irreplaceable. In my mind he stands above all others in his ability to commingle growls and cleans (above even Åkerfeldt – hallowed be his name – back in the growling heyday). I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but so far, New Guy’s inflection makes me want to barf.

    I MAY BE BIASED BECAUSE MIKKO’S VOCALS MAKE ME MELT.

    • I really don’t agree. I like Mikko, but I think that Jón’s vocals are in a class above.

    • Merijn Kooijman

      I disagree with you about the “barfing”, but I totally agree with you about the greatness of Mikko’s vocals. His cleans were actually very clean (no emotion-overload) and the growls were fat as hell.

      One thing I don’t like about Jon’s singing (in A Shapeless Derelict), is his at moments extreme voicing of final “s”: “Az dry az they come”, “Comez, settlez and stayz”, “carriez a shapeless derelict on spectral wavez of static”. It somehow seems a bit forced.

      • It’s funny, though, because as a native speaker I only noticed one specific thing that he says like a Scandinavian. Other than that, his accent didn’t really shine through at all and he doesn’t do the things you’re used to hearing from ESL scandies who growl.

        • Merijn Kooijman

          Cool. I must say that I’m a bit biased because of the fact that I’m a speaker of Dutch, in which every wordfinal is devoiced (most of the time very hearable in spoken English by a Dutchman :-) ). Nevertheless, in this song, the voicing seemed a bit more than I’m used to in English.

          • Do you mean like when you say “Leiden” you actually say “Leide”?

          • Merijn Kooijman

            Some people do that including myself maybe, but that’s not what I meant here, haha. I mean that when I say words like “hond” (dog) or “Ik word” (I become), I say “hont” and “ik wort” (while the plural forms stay voiced when spoken: “honden” and “wij worden”).
            Because of that phenomenon, Dutchies are tend to pronunciate “I called the dog” as “I callt the dock”. Check Louis van Gaals speeches if you like xD (“I haf”, “becaus”, “ant” etc.).

            Anyway, I’m digressing.

  • Wilhelm

    I cannot get into this band – it seems like everything is there to make a good album, but I just get bored. In the past, the Swallow The Sun singer got on my nerves (I just cannot stand his vocals.) I was happy when they announced they had a new singer on board, but he sounds exactly like the STS guy, oh well.

    • What? His growls are similar, but his cleans?

      • Wilhelm

        I’m talking about his growls – his cleans are quite good.

  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    These chaps like Amorphis so much they pulled a Tomi Joutsen on us, a Tomi Joutsen being the act to replace a famous and talented vocalist with a relatively unknown guy whose skills manage to outshine their predecessor to great success.

  • sssgadget

    Damn this album is really good. I fuckin love this band. Listening to Curse of the Red River right now.

  • Dave

    Top of my list of new vinyl to buy. I knew CM wouldn’t let this out with any sort of actual dynamics, but there’s definitely hope for the wax version. Their last album is an absolute KNOCKOUT on vinyl.

    • Yeah, I asked about it and got hand-wavey non-answers from Century about whether or not there’s a dedicated vinyl mix. I think mostly they think I’m just a pain in the ass for asking.

      • Dave

        Well that’s annoying. Oh well, we’ll definitely report on it once I get a copy.

        • I’ve put in a request again. ;)

          • Dave

            Somebody ripped the vinyl and posted the scores on the DR database – DR9. Very likely they cut from the CD master. Too bad…

          • That was me. Got the vinyl master, will comment on it. Sounds better as a DR9.

          • Dave

            Oh awesome lol, looking forward to it.

  • FWIW, In my totally peasant opinion, I agree with you AMG, this dude seems to have a wider range on the cleans than Mikko, and the band seems to be taking a nice advantage of that. Damn if the year keeps this rhythm it could prove to be one of the best years for metal.

  • Greg Hasbrouck

    Always been a fan of Swallow the Sun, but Barren Earth has never done it for me. However, I agree with the review; the vocals are stellar. If this is the worst track on the record, it’s got to be a hell of release.

    • Yeah, I thought it was crazy that this was the song they released. I absolutely adored the rest of the record and had a lot harder with this song.

  • Jean-Luc Ricard

    Gonna share those AMG originals with us, champ?

    • lolno.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        I just hope it wasn’t anything embarrassing, like a cover of “It’s a Sunshine Day”.

      • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

        Do you want an online petition? Because this is how you get an online petition.

  • Merijn Kooijman

    For me, Barren Earth did two things (with CotRR):
    1) get me into music with grunts/growls,
    2) get me into the AMG blog.

    Both were the start of more goodness. Thanks.

    I’m glad you said that the released song is probably the worst, because I didn’t like it that much.

  • Grymm

    I need to check out Barren Earth more than I have. This song is pretty good.

    And for the record, Amorpeth almost ranks up there with Björknagar. Almost.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    May I just say how relieved I am to read this review! Barren Earth is a band I hugely respect and admire….and its great to see Aldara fill that void so brilliantly! Kudos to Barren Earth…and to you AMG for this review!

  • euthanatos

    well, now I’m just ridiculously excited for this

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I was intrigued by your observation that Aldará’s voice is “likely untrained”. Maybe this paints me as a newb, but isn’t that generally the case for most metal vocalists? I know there are exceptions — I think the singer for Powerwolf had a start in Opera, and then there are many women metal singers who started out in Classical music.

    • True enough. But he does get a little operatic, and—like my own voice, and the voice of most other vocalists—sometimes it seems like he might be straining in ways that might make him go a bit off when he’s using so much power live.

  • Holy balls this album is good! I liked the last Barren Earth, but this is some good stuff!!!!!

  • JJnetZach

    Well they did notice the AMG demo after all. From their Facebook link to this review:
    “At the same time we’d like to apologise that we ignored the contributor’s application to the BE’s vocalist spot back in the days. Subsequently thinking, his demo was nailed pretty darn good!”

    I gotta check this one out tomorrow when it (hopefully) gets released on Google Music.

  • GooberMan

    They updated their Facebook page a couple of hours ago apologising for overlooking the audition and said it was good. Did lol.

    • I saw that. Well-played, Barren Earth, well-played. ;)

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      ha nice!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Are there any bands in Finland that aren’t supergroups?
    Finally getting around to this, Aldará’s vocals are stellar and my god that guitar just superb! if this is the weakest song on the album I can’t wait to hear the whole thing!

  • Luke_22

    Wow, never given these guys a shot but this is a great fucking album. The dude has a very unique voice indeed and a killer growl to boot. I agree that the title track is definitely the album’s weak spot.

  • Carl Anderson

    Sophomore slump!? I actually really dig _The Devil’s Resolve_! :)