Barren Earth entered with a bit of fanfare, considering the lineage of its members, who came together from such heavyweights as Amorphis, Kreator, Moonsorrow, and Swallow the Sun. However, as is the case with many debut albums, Curse of the Red River was something that gave insights to what the band was capable of creating, but didn’t feel like the ideas had reached their proper maturity. Their second effort, The Devil’s Resolve, fleshed out these ambitions of being a death metal/prog powerhouse to a greater degree, but something was still a bit lacking.
Their latest effort, On Lonely Towers, finally sees the band reaching the full potential of their ideas, developing an expertly crafted balance between death metal and prog rock. While that sounds like a dead ringer for a prior-era Opeth clone, Barren Earth is a completely different beast. While all the doom and death metal elements fans have come to recognize are on display, this album has a decidedly more progressive tilt to it. The mournful sounds of new vocalist Jón Aldará (also Hamferð vocalist) provides an additional layer of depth absent from previous releases.
Before pigeonholing the album into one or even two styles, let’s be clear and state that there is a lot to consume when listening to On Lonely Towers. One moment, it’s somber and oppressive doom. The next, morphing into a blunt-fisted, death metal barrage. Then it transforms into a psychedelic, proggy wonderland. Much of this can and does reveal itself within the course of a single track. While “Howl”, “Frozen Processions”, “A Shapeless Derelict”, and “On Lonely Towers” are all on the more restrained and focused side of the spectrum, they still offer plenty of death metal and prog substance to keep you hooked.
However, it’s when Barren Earth decide to delve further into their prog ambitions that the band really elevates into a truly exciting experience. With “Set Alight,” you’ll find the band finally reaching deep into their musical arsenal. It slowly unravels with a funeral doom procession, bursting at the song’s midpoint into a high-powered keyboard/death metal demonstration, closing out and reprising the melancholic sorrow that greeted us at the beginning.
“Sirens of Oblivion” is by far the richest track on the album. While it rolls along in crushing fashion, the wails of a saxophone sneak into the mix and you suddenly get whisked back to some 1960s jazz lounge, before being hurled back into a fiery death metal cauldron. It certainly catches your attention, but meshes well together without coming off as forced or pretentious. Just note that in order to hear this monstrous track, you’ll need to get the digipak CD or vinyl versions of the album, as it’s a bonus not available with the standard CD or digital download. Any extra price will be worth it for this.
Having genres in music can be helpful to compartmentalize, but some bands are simply beyond a label. With On Lonely Towers, Barren Earth have eschewed any particular category and have really made something entirely their own. Their previous albums were by all means enjoyable, but didn’t necessarily warrant mandatory repeat listens. The game has definitely changed with On Lonely Towers. It’s as though they went into the songwriting process throwing all caution to the wind with no hesitation, pulling in a myriad of elements to create a wonderfully satisfying album. The end result is truly a stellar achievement that will undoubtedly land this masterpiece on many Top 10 lists for 2015.
5 out of 5 Rating:
1. From the Depths of Spring
3. Frozen Processions
4. A Shapeless Derelict
5. Set Alight
6. On Lonely Towers
7. Chaos, the Songs Within
8. Sirens of Oblivion*
9. The Vault
* bonus track
Genre: Death/Doom Metal, Progressive Rock
Record Label: Century Media Records
Playing Time: 1:04:44
Janne Perttilä – guitar, backing vocals
Sami Yli-Sirniö – guitar, backing vocals
Olli-Pekka Laine – bass, backing vocals
Marko Tarvonen – drums
Kasper Mårtenson – keyboards, backing vocals
Jón Aldará – lead vocals