Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages Review

Band: Barren Earth
Album: A Complex of Cages
Label: Century Media
Genre: Prog/Death/Doom
Country: Finland
Release Date: 30 March, 2018

Barren Earth is born from the Finnish Metal scene and bears all the hallmarks of its influences. You can hear a lot of Amorphis in here, both in tone and in composition. This is not to say they copy their forbears, but it is to say they owe them a great debt. The songs here on their fourth full-length are thick and meaty, with no tracks running under five minutes long, the average flittering around seven minutes. So you know right away you’re going to get some complex music, with lots of movement, both light and shade. The clean vocals interact with the growls, weaving in amongst each other, in direct comparison to the interplay between the guitars and the keys. What Barren Earth has created here is a fine example of melodic Death/Prog, but nothing that is going to stretch the boundaries of the genre, or offer a challenge to the usual listener of this kind of music.

“The Living Fortress” opens the album and really, it’s all you need to hear to know what you’re going to get on the rest of the record. Professional, sleek, with power and finesse, the song works its way around, twisting and turning, plenty of progressive tendencies pushing it along, but with enough heft to give it some punch. It’s clear these guys know how to play, and how to compose a song, but it’s also clear they are not going to step outside the comfortable confines of the genre they inhabit. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, it also doesn’t bode well for making the rest of the record stand out amongst the crowd.

Some other tracks that appealed to me:

“Zeal” opens with a nice piano/vocal intro, lending some quieter dynamics to the entire recording. It’s well-done, with the guitar chiming in perfectly to add another layer to the lovely atmospherics. When Power Metal bands try to compose a ballad, this is the kind of thing they’re looking to create. It’s perfect in its melodic qualities without sounding cheesy or fluffy. About two and half minutes in some darkness appears in the narrative, the piano changing to a Moogy swirl, followed by some heavier, blacker guitar. Then comes the thump and the growls and the song picks up a bit, shuffling forward, crossing into Death/Doom territory.

“Solitude Pith” is the longest track on the record, at 10:16, and the opening keyboards remind me of Hemispheres-era Rush. It doesn’t take long before those distinctly Finnish guitars come chiming in and the song scoots away from the Rush and more into the Yes. The opening few minutes are haunting and Barren Earth here prove just how good they are with atmospherics. The song really builds as it goes, Wakemanesque keyboards changing to organ, reflecting back to Bach a bit. The growled vocals are swept in with a wind of melodic guitar and steady drumming. At the five minute mark, the song almost lurches to a halt, as it transitions again, the otherworldly sound of the keys returning, bringing with them a Middle Eastern flair. If the song sounds like it’s all over the place, that’s because it is, but the band makes it work. This is pretty flawless stuff and the high point of the album in terms of musicality and finesse.

The album closes with “Withdrawal,” the shortest track at just over five minutes long. This is another slow-builder, with lots of acoustics and pretty singing. The “epic” part begin almost three minutes into the song, and from there we’re ushered out with some sizzling guitar solos. This one never strays into Death territory, the band preferring to end the album with a lullaby rather than a Metal tornado.

If you took Amorphis and threw them into a bag with Dream Theater and added a dash of Opeth and shook it up, Barren Earth would fall out. This is not a slight on the band whatsoever. They are great musicians and the songs they write are complex, moving, and heavy. For me, it was all a bit too safe, sticking too much to the tried and true of their genre, so that’s why it gets a 7. For fans of this style, they’ll find an 8 or 9 here, and happily tell me to go to hell. I guess I wanted a bit more grit and dirt to the songs rather than the polished, professional album I got. Regardless of my biases, Barren Earth have a lot to be proud of here, and their fans will find another gem to add to their collection.

Rating: 7/10

1. The Living Fortress
2. Ruby
3. Further Down
4. Zeal
5. Scatterprey
6. Solitude Path
7. Dysphoria
8. Spire
9. Withdrawal

Total Playing Time: 61:26

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