Barren Earth – Written In the Stars

Sunday, 31st March 2013

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Supergroups aren’t built to last, and if they were, then every metal musician with at least something marginally respectable to his or her name would be in such a band. Certainly a lot of us have fantasized about prospective pairings of members from (we’re throwing random bands out here) In Flames, Anthrax, Slayer, Emperor, and Mastodon. It would probably fall flat on its face. The real trick is building an actual career and releasing more than one album, something that very few (ex. Bloodbath, Lock Up, Avantasia) have been able to do with success. With that in mind, Finland’s Barren Earth aren’t the first mega-band to come from the land of a thousand lakes (anyone remember Chaosbreed?), but they might be well on their way to joining the exalted few supergroups that have made it to a third album.

The band’s sophomore The Devil’s Resolve (Peaceville) is the ideal follow-up to 2010’s shimmering Curse of the Red River. Jam-packed with 70’s-bred prog moments and earthy death metal bellows from Swallow the Sun throat Mikko Kotamäki, The Devil’s Resolve sees the six Finns further exploit their vast influences and pedigrees to the hilt, all the while developing some identity (see: “As It Was Written” and “Oriental Pyre”). No longer does the band sound like a Finnish Opeth, something that was thrust toward by them for Curse of the Red River. With good cheer and high cheek-bones in tow, we snagged keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson (ex-Amorphis) for a round of questions, and here thee be… For lack of a better term, Barren Earth is a “supergroup,” so naturally, you guys had to deliver with your first album. Obviously you did, so in a way, do you feel that the success of Curse of the Red Rivervalidated the group coming together?

Kasper Mårtenson: The good reception to The Curse of the Red Riverconsolidated our feeling of the band being worthwhile, very much so. Even if the reception had been colder, we’d probably still have appreciated the album, but positive feedback always boosts things up. Because the band isn’t a top priority for the members involved, how much fun has it become? Has it become an “anything goes” type of creative playground?

Mårtenson: That’s definitely part of it. It’s not quite “anything goes,” though. Maybe a bit more like “most things go.” We’d actually planned to include a pure ballad on the album, but the record company suggested it to be removed from the final version. As a result, it will only come out on the Japanese version of the album. So there are limitations to what we can do. With six Finns in the band, what’s the level of camaraderie? It must be a relaxed atmosphere…

Mårtenson: The camaraderie is pretty good, though I wouldn’t say that ‘relaxed’ would be the archetypal Finnish state of being. We are quite a colorful bunch of people, since there are guys from various musical backgrounds and of various political dispositions. Every once in a while, minor arguments do appear, either musical or political. But that’s just good! It’s a sign that we’re getting to know each other even better. You had some live activity after the release of Red River. How did it go? Any trouble in terms of putting together a setlist?

Mårtenson: Generally speaking, the live shows have gone very well. Apart from Finland, we’ve managed to play in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, USA and Canada. There’s always trouble in putting together a setlist! That is because there are usually several views as to what would count as a killer show. And these views tend to conflict. In the end it’s always a compromise. However, playing live in the States last year, we made sure to pick up the most energetic songs, being as we were opening up for high-octane acts like Finntroll and Ensiferum. The first thing that sticks out with The Devil’s Resolve is that there’s more of a 70’s prog rock influence. Was that where your collective heads were when writing?

Mårtenson: There’s always been an element of prog around BE. Sometimes it is not that evident, but sometimes it comes to the fore. It certainly reflects in tracks like “As It Is Written” and “White Fields,” the former possibly harking back to the days of Genesis and ELP, and the latter siphoning off some Tool vibes. To that point, what is it about the 70’s prog rock scene that is so attractive to the band?

Mårtenson: Versatility, experimentation, ambition, epic song structures, pretentiousness! Growing up, was that kind of music prevalent in Finland?

Mårtenson: Not for the people in our age group. When I discovered Yes back in the early 90’s I thought I was just about the only one listening to that stuff. But that was kinda cool. It felt as being privy to a secret. How much of a filter do the songs go through? Meaning, is everyone constantly making sure they aren’t repeating what they did with their current and/or previous bands?

Mårtenson: That’s a good question. It varies from member to member. It seems that some members don’t mind at all if there is resemblance, just as long as the music comes naturally. However, I’ve consciously tried to infuse new things to the mix. Sure, my songs will probably always have certain folky vibes to them, but I always try to introduce new elements to the proceedings as well. An example of this would be the aforementioned “As It Is Written,” where I’d like to think we’re visiting musical areas none of us have visited before. It also feels like your keyboards were ramped up this time, like on “As It Is Written.” Do I properly detect a Scottish vibe in this song?

Mårtenson: They sure were, ha! “As It Is Written” is based on a melody which I’d had lying around for ages. I always felt that the melody had a Scottish/Celtic feel to it. The working title for “AIIW” was appropriately “Scotland.” In fact we still refer to it as “Scotland,” not as “AIIW.” Somebody jokingly said “let’s get a bagpipe for this one.” After a while it started to seem like a genuinely good idea. And it works splendidly! Have to hand it to Mikko as well – his vocals on “The Rains Begin” are quite excellent. Was he given more range this time out to try new things?

Mårtenson: Yes, he was. But it should be noted that also Sami does a great deal of vocal work on the album. He’s very active in the harmonies. His and Mikko’s voices fit together quite well, and it is this combination you hear in “The Rains Begin and many other tracks too. I read that there are some songs left over from the recording sessions. Any plans for them? What are they like in comparison to the rest of the album?

Mårtenson: Altogether there are three leftover tracks. One of them is the aforementioned ballad, “Passage Unfolds.” That song is very, very different from anything else on the album. No growling, no power chords, no double bass drums. That will be on the Japanese version. Then there are further two tracks which are bonus tracks on the Special Edition. They are “Martyrs of Devotion” and “World In Haze.” “Martyrs” is what I think of as a pretty nostalgic track by Oppu. “World In Haze” is written by me, and is definitely the slowest track we’ve ever done. Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest of 2012?

Mårtenson: The album has just come out, and we’ve got a series of shows booked here in Finland for March and April. We’re currently discussing the possibilities of doing some festivals in the summer. In September I know that Kreator, Swallow the Sun and Moonsorrow will all be touring. But with any luck, Barren Earth just might do something towards the end of 2012. Fingers crossed.

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