Album Review: Barren Earth – Curse Of The Red River

Thanks to Peaceville for sending this album for me to review.

Rarely do I encounter a band that deserves to be placed on a pedestal because of its first album.  But Barren Earth’s Curse of the Red River is no ordinary record.  Intricate, melodic, vicious, and beautiful are just a few words that describe the album.  Inspired by Jethro Tell, Opeth, Pink Floyd, and Paradise Lost, each of the nine songs take the listener on an astonishing musical journey.

Barren Earth was conceived in 2007 by former Amorphis bassist Olli-Pekka Laine and Moonsorrow drummer Marko Tarvonen. The duo set out to form a new progressive metal act and brought together Swallow the Sun singer Mikko Kotamäki, Amorphis keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson, Rytmihäiriö guitarist Janne Perttilä, and Kreator guitarist Janne Perttilä.   The Curse of the Red River recording session took place at Seawolf Studios, Helsinki (Ghost Brigade), in summer 2009 with mixing carried out by the prolific Dan Swanö at Unisound in Sweden (Katatonia, Opeth, etc) who commented: “One of the best albums I have ever had the privilege to mix. The album is THAT good!!”

Curse of the Red River is masterfully crafted juxtaposing aggressive death growl vocals and clean lyrical singing over complex instrumental arrangements.  Songs intrigue the listener by intermingling somber, acoustical sections with powerful, haunting ones.

The album begins with the title track, “Curse of the Red River”.  The guitars fade in with a slow, heavy riff.  Kotamäki roars the music to life and hikes up the tempo.  The guitars introduce a rhythmic melody before the first verse.  Deaths growls are greeted with syncopated artificial harmonics from a guitar.  When the chorus enters, death growls are layered over a clean vocal harmony.  Another verse and chorus pass.  When the solo section arrives, the keyboards start it off with a tinge of blues that morph to slow, bending high notes which scream in agony.  The guitars take over with high-pitched screams propelling the solo forward.  At the end of the solo, the chorus returns and fades into an interlude with an acoustic guitar and flute.  This Jethro Tull moment makes for an unexpected combination that allows the music to breath. Finally, an electric guitar returns with the melody from the beginning and exchanges musical lines with the flute while the music slowly intensifies until the end.

“Flicker”, my favorite song on the album, begins with an aggressive guitar riff coupled with another roar from Kotamäki.  Suddenly, the music transitions to acoustic guitars that change the musical atmosphere as Kotamäki enters with clean vocals.  When the chorus starts, the distorted guitars support death growls juxtaposed with a lyrical keyboard melody, one of the most beautiful moments on the album.  The middle section intensifies with enraged guitars and vocals.  The music suddenly breaks to a mellow interlude with an acoustic guitar, electric guitar and piano. The interlude builds and leads back to the chorus before ending.

Two of my other favorites on the album are “The Leer” and “Cold Earth Chamber” because each of these songs has a nice contrast between aggression and beauty.  The melodies and riffs in both are catchy and stuck with me well after I stopped listening to the album.

Fans of Opeth will love this album.  Only a few months into 2010, and this one is likely to make it on my list of top ten metal albums for the year.

The album was released on March 23rd and is available on Amazon.com and Peaceville website.

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