A metal band from Finland is not a rare phenomenon. The Nordic country’s pedigree in metal is so well known, even Obama commented on the absurdly high number of Finnish bands per capita during his second term. With some of the finest black and death metal bands to grace the underground, Finland’s production of stellar metal often carries a signature feel, similar to Swedish death metal and German thrash. Helsinki’s Barren Earth harness that feel masterfully with their fourth album, and second through Century Media Records, A Complex of Cages.
Those who have followed Barren Earth will not be overly surprised by the style on display on A Complex of Cages, though the songs are more masterfully crafted and the sound more refined than earlier albums in the discography. For this uninitiated with Barren Earth, a quick glance through the members should interest any metal fan – Jón Aldará of Hamferð handles lead vocals, seamlessly switching between brutal gutturals and simply beautiful operatic singing; Marco Tarvonen of Moonsorrow, October Sky and Thy Serpent punishing the kit with an inhuman tightness; Ollie-Pekka Laine of Amorphis handles the low-end duties brilliantly and Sami Yli-Sirniö of Kreator really shines with his instantly recognisable melodies and guitar work.
With a proggy, folky brand of death metal setting them aside from the super-melodic death metal bands that typically come to mind when thinking of Finland, Barren Earth have really set themselves apart from the majority of their countrymen during their career. The resulting sound showcased on A Complex of Cages is extremely fresh, and very exciting. Though the prog influences are front-and-centre for much of the album, and no point does the record feel pretentious or inaccessible – simply artistic, and a joy to listen to.
Opening track “The Living Fortress” showcases the beauty that will be experienced across the entirety of A Complex of Cages perfectly. Barren Earth builds intensity before dropping back, allowing Jón Aldará to drive the song with his stunning clean vocals before ramping into a more progressive death metal sound. This back-and-forth works excellently, keeping the listener on their toes and demanding attention. The ten minute epic “Solitude Pith” is where we see Barren Earth at their proggiest, the song primarily led by the haunting vocals of Aldará, the synthy keyboards of Antii Myllynen and an Eastern sounding melody, with occasional breaks to bring in a crushing, death metal stomp, before the pure prog sound takes over once more. “Dysphoria” brings in a feeling of extreme melancholy, while “Spire” is devastatingly heavy – with just enough prog and melody to stay true to Barren Earth’s signature sound. A Complex of Cages comes to a triumphant close with arguably the best song on the record – the folky, utterly stunning “Withdrawl.”
Though most of the members of Barren Earth have fairly intense schedules with their other bands and projects, it would be a great shame to see the band put on the backburner, especially with the excellence of A Complex of Cages showcasing a stronger, more refined version of Barren Earth. A Complex of Cages is utterly crushing when it needs to me, progy and self-indulgent in a perfect amount, and carries the signature melancholy many Finnish bands seem to have. From start to finish, the record was fantastic to listen to, and these new songs will be absolutely incredible in a live setting for sure. An outstanding offering from an outstanding group of musicians.