Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages (Century Media)

Tuesday, 3rd April 2018
Rating: 9/10

Once bands establish a specific framework for their sound, it’s interesting to see how things progress album to album based on touring, natural life experience, or even minute member changes. Although the core of Barren Earth has been the same since 2007, two personnel shifts since their second album The Devil’s Resolve have given the progressive melodic death/doom metal troop dynamic perspective. Vocalist Jón Aldará came into the fold for Swallow the Sun’s Mikko Kotamäki for 2015’s On Lonely Towers, keeping things on that clean to growl trip against the diverse musical interplay – and for the follow-up A Complex of Cages, keyboardist Antti Myllynen takes over from Kasper Mårtenson. After a few spins, it’s easy to hear that the sextet continues to push the parameters of creativity, in turn offering their most diverse selection of 70’s progressive rock meets melodic doom/death material to date.

The first two-minutes of opener “The Living Fortress” embrace an open spirit – the progressive keyboard/guitar to rhythm section interplay segues into an acoustic/twin guitar tranquility while the vocal melodies possess an operatic/soothing texture, and that push and pull continues as the normal death textures weave in and out of the almost seven-minute song. Those who miss the older textures of Opeth or Amorphis will treasure “Further Down”, the cultural guitar harmonies, bass/organ groove strains, and growl/clean melody shifts on the vocal front propulsive and key to making this cut a front half highlight. Antti’s choice of phrasing and wide-open use of tones for keyboards appears throughout, giving the right flavor to a classic Candlemass meets tremolo death-fueled “Zeal”, while providing that atmospheric ambiance to “Dysphoria”. Listeners know going in that the depth of arrangements means you need to prepare for a longer than normal timeframe for an album length, but do not mistake that for unnecessary excess – the ten-minute plus epic “Solitude Pith” starting somber with acoustic guitars, subtle background chants, and lower vocals against a building electric undercurrent as you watch the organ swells build into a progressive-laden, exotic-nuanced montage for the six-piece.

The success of Barren Earth relies on knowing when to be musically crafty but never overstepping that line of creating compelling content that hooks the listener track to track. A Complex of Cages shifts into more 70’s progressive rock elements while not sacrificing the melodic death/doom heaviness that makes the band a special entity in the worldwide landscape of metal. As such, another winner for all concerned.

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