On Lonely Towers
Finnish band Barren Earth has always felt like an afterthought in the grand scheme of progressive death metal. The super group (featuring members of Swallow the Sun, Amorphis, and Kreator) is an actual super group, with enviable amounts of talent among its ranks. Through Barren Earth’s two previous albums, Curse of the Red River and The Devil’s Resolve, the band showcased a promising mix of death, doom, and prog, with some folk influences. It fit squarely in the impressive but not excellent category of music that I tend to view as I would modern art: it’s great, but it’s not something I’m going to take in every day, you know? Barren Earth has never lacked talent; they’ve lacked a soul and personality. Thankfully, the third time is the charm, as On Lonely Towers is the band’s crowning achievement. It’s easy to point to the excellent new vocalist, Jon Aldara, as the reason for the uptick in everything. Jon has an old-school quality to his growls that are perfect here, but it’s his melancholy clean voice that steals the show. If you told me he spent time in Katatonia, I wouldn’t be surprised because Jon’s voice has a painstaking quality to it, giving the lyrics a vibrant life. Listen to “A Shapeless Derelict” and tell me you can’t feel something.
That said, while Jon is greatly to credit for the increase in quality here, the entire band has stepped up for On Lonely Towers. The death metal sections are memorable and contain some fantastic riffing. One of the biggest complaints I have toward prog death is that either the prog or death feels tacked on, like the band didn’t follow Ron Swanson’s mantra, “Never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing.” Thankfully, Barren Earth doesn’t half-ass the prog or the death. Their prog game is seriously on point here. I would go as far as to say Barren Earth’s progressive aspects on On Lonely Towers are as well-placed and well-done as anything done by anyone other than Between the Buried and Me, and they’re oh so close to that band. In fact, what helps this album stand out is how cohesive a listen On Lonely Towers is and how well it opens up with subsequent listens. I might go as far as to say this almost reaches The Parallax II:Future Sequence-levels of quality and density at points; it’s that good. Aside from the unnecessarily extended mid-section of the title track, the entirety of On Lonely Towers feels essential and meticulously crafted. Oh, and these guys can absolutely play their instruments.
Overall, Barren Earth has finally utilized their talent onto record. On Lonely Towers feels like the type of album that is necessary, especially with how barren the world of progressive death metal feels in 2015.