Released: April 6, 2010
The Curse of the Red River is a blessing of mighty Finnish metal…
The old “throw a few bands in a blender and you get [X]” cliché sticks around for a good reason: occasionally, it’s true. A few listens to Barren Earth will surely spark instant comparisons to early Amorphis and even Opeth; yet, interestingly, in time, I have every confidence that Barren Earth will be known by the means of their own distinctive sound. This Finnish melodic death/doom metal band, with Swallow the Sun frontman Mikko Kotamäki on vocals, released the remarkable Curse of the Red River earlier this year. It already ranks amongst my favorite albums of 2010 thus far.
Intensely heavy at times, with a sprawling, seemingly effortless blend of harsh growls and haunting, melancholic clean vocals, Curse of the Red River is as consistent as it is jarring. The transitions from folky, ’70s-rock-influenced passages to earth-shattering, deep throaty bellows and thunderous guitars (very Opeth) only seem increasingly impressive with each replay. The near-eight-minute opener “Curse of the Red River” takes off at a doom-like pace, slowly weaving menacing, twisting, cold guitar leads throughout its ominous introduction. Kotamäki’s roar then arrives as a kind indication that Barren Earth won’t be easy for non-metal ears, and will in turn be absolute bliss for those enchanted by melo-death. “Our Twilight” alternates comfortably between a steady, medium pace and a spine-tingling crawl, delivering a phenomenally memorable and catchy chorus, during which Kotamäki’s clean vocals steal the spotlight:
just one drop more and everything cascades
benighted stillness, elusive daylight
it’s our twilight.”
“Flicker” is magical in its emotional, delicate atmosphere, with Kotamäki’s pensive reflections on loneliness supplemented by superbly executed wailing guitar work from Janne Perttilä (of fellow Finnish metallers Moonsorrow) and Sami Yli-Sirniö (Kreator). It is truly stunning how this song somehow fuses peaceful tranquility with brutality; it’s not too often that a vocalist can be really good at both harsh growling and melodiously singing, but Kotamäki covers both roles rather impressively. The exotic, bleak “Cold Earth Chamber” flexes the band’s flair for dramatic drumwork, allowing Marko Tarvonen a chance to impress while eerie female vocals are intertwined with Kotamäki’s cryptic “ahh, ahh” layered vocals in the background.
And a sure highlight of Curse of the Red River, equipped with a fantastic structure of great depth and atmosphere, “The Ritual of Dawn” swiftly escalates from caustic, hammering riffs to piano-sprinkled, acoustic folk-influenced passages during which Kotamäki softly, wistfully ponders:
“Hold the candles and stay the sky, take her home, sanctify / curse the darkness to make it right / watch the dawn closing her eyes / see it shine…”
Curse of the Red River is something I will especially recommend to fans of Finnish bands such as Moonsorrow, Swallow the Sun and vintage Amorphis. Of course, it is only natural that the band sounds a bit like a hybrid of the aforementioned artists, if for no other reason than the fact Barren Earth is made up of current and former members of those bands. To get to the point, any fan of melodic, melancholic death metal heavy on somber, mystical atmosphere and with versatile vocals should surely investigate Barren Earth as well, as this debut will not disappoint.