Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Barren Earth - The Devil's Resolve (2012)

Finnish six piece Barren Earth have a style all their own. Blending 70's psychedelic rock with modern progressive metal, this outfit is more than the sum of it's members. Featuring current and former members of Moonsorrow, Amorphis, Kreator and Swallow The Sun, this is one "super group" that has lived up to the hype so far. Their first full length, "Curse Of The Red River" was widely heralded as a work of metal genius, by fans and critics from around the world. But with the dreaded sophomore slump looming over them, can they make "The Devil's Resolve" better their the previous effort?

The band wastes no time in getting into the meat of things, with "Passing Of The Crimson Shadows" picking up where they left off. They find a striking balance between melody and distortion, both in the vocal tracks and guitars. The trade off of clean singing in the verse, and the devilish growls of the chorus is always a factor, building momentum with each pass of the baton. But the guitars share a similar aspect, with acoustic picking leading the way for devastating chugging and wild solo work.The progressive rock vibe is furthered by the use of keyboards, always extending the reach of the track, always laying in wait behind the drums. In "The Rains Begin," you have the song that best represents the mission statement of the band. The psychedelic tones are undeniable, with a great growling hook to seal the deal. But the transition from atmospheric to heavy is where the real skill comes, flowing seamlessly from enchanting folk guitars into dense thrashing ones. The breakdown section is a keeper, pairing harsh vocals over melodic, and 70's inspired, guitars and keys.

The pacing picks up on "Vintage Warlords," but the diversity is still at a high, choosing to keep the mix varied, as opposed to focusing on just one style. This becomes a mash-up of Finnish folk, progressive, and the death/doom genre they know so well. The crashing of cymbals cannot be contained, sizzling throughout the track. But as you get to the midway point, you are greeted with an interlude that would make Deep Purple proud, showing that melodic sensibilities have a place in the heaviest of metal outputs. The melodic fades, and the masterful growls return to finish the job. Perhaps the most inspired track on the album comes in the form of "As It Is Written," which sees use of the bagpipes, and very intricate keys. The guitar riffs, bending and sliding, will root themselves in your brain for days. The vocal contrast sees use again, but moreso here than anywhere else. When backed by the shredding and groove that comes from the guitar side of things, you have evidence of a band that is more focused, more complete than any time before. Combine that with "The Dead Exiles," and you are going to have something to hang your hat on. The air of evil is incredible, with a slow, deliberate barrage of drums and guitars. But just when you think you are hearing a straightforward death/doom track that may have been left off a Swallow The Sun release, the melody makes an appearance, cutting through the thick fog of riffs and rage.

Amidst all the heavy riffs and eclectic vocal combinations, the drums may become a background, instead of a leader. That changes on "Oriental Pyre," allowing each kick, every single roll and fill to shine through with surgical precision. The melodic vocal passages are layered so delicately atop a bed of drums and guitars that it is only fitting to have it all torn to shreds by a single scream. Again, you find a strange mix in the breakdown, with guitars and keys twirling and winding over wild drums, syncing back together for a final push to the finish. It would be hard to pinpoint the dark wave of music that you are treated to on "White Fields," where even the more emotive sections have an eerie tinge to them. Whether it be the keys in the melody, or the pacing of the riffs, it all just leaves you feeling slightly uneasy, perhaps even looking over your shoulder. Fittingly this stories end with "Where All Stories End," a summation, of sorts, of the work this band has achieved thus far. Though it clocks in at under six minutes, there is so much on display here, including everything you picked up on along the way. The guitar work is the true star, with some great solo work leaping over the mix. The perfect harmony is struck as the track starts to fade to a close, seeing layered melodic vocals set atop a thunder of drums and distortion. And, as you would expect, a light, clean guitar plays you out.

As we have seen so many times before, the so-called "super groups" fail for two basic reasons. First, they are ego stroking bores. Second, they sound exactly like one or more of the main bands involved. Barren Earth have managed to avoid both pitfalls, creating a sound that is all their own, without a trace of ego or entitlement. From one album to the next, they have fine tuned and honed their sound, finding a more defined space to inhabit. What makes this even more incredible is that it is all accomplished in a limited "side project" schedule. "The Devil's Resolve" is exactly what you want it to be, exactly what you thought it would be, and exactly what it should be.


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