Barren Earth – The Devil's Resolve
Death metal, in all forms, runs the risk of being labeled a wash of noise. Much of the genre does little to dissuade that line of thinking, confusing brutality with quality, striving to be heavy with little to no regard for actually crafting songs. The best death metal bands know that a balance needs to exist, and that it is still possible to make crushingly heavy music that can also be melodic. Barren Earth contains enough talent in their ranks to have learned this lesson, using the twisting landscapes of their progressive deathly vision to showcase a nuanced sense of songwriting.
Any progressive death metal band will be compared to Opeth at some point, and for good reason. Opeth set the standard for turning death metal into something more intellectual and more easily embraced by people who don't think of themselves as death metal fans. Barren Earth follows in this wake, mixing growls with a heavy dose of clean vocals, and throwing in vintage synth and organ sounds to offset the lack of killer riffs. Influence, however unintentional, from Dan Swanö's seminal “Moontower” is apparent in every vintage echo in the album (Swanö mixed “The Devil's Resolve”). This isn't riff-based music, it's a mood set to music, as evidenced by the folk-influenced guitar melodies in “The Rains Begin”.
The feeling “The Devil's Resolve” evokes is the same one Opeth trades in, an overbearing sense of melancholy that can only be expressed by contrasting the depths of brutality with softer moments. The gorgeous acoustic playing in the middle of “Vintage Warlords” is not merely a moment of beauty, but makes the guttural roars book-ending the passage that much more ferocious. Likewise, the Celtic introduction to “As It Is Written” makes the inevitable riffs sound thicker and heavier than any blast-beat could.
Where many death metal bands go wrong is the feature that most impedes their ability to find a wider audience; the vocals. Just because a vocal is growled doesn't mean it cannot still inflect a melody, which is a fact lost on the majority of vocalists working in the genre. Mikko Kotamäki is not immune from this shortcoming, but has moments where he fully embraces the possibilities. Right of the bat, opener “Passing Of The Crimson Shadows” boasts a growled chorus that possesses as much melody as his clean passages. The shame is that his vocals come off weak in both respects, a flaw befalling all but a select few versatile vocalists. His clean vocals have good melody, but lack personality, while his growls are strong but indecipherable, even for death metal.
Diction issues aside, Barren Earth has written an album that does enough things well to be proud of. In a time when extreme music is still running to find the boundaries of listenable music, The Devil's Resolve won't break any barriers. It doesn't need to, because heavy is a state of mind.