Say what you will about the general state of the world, but as far as metal goes, the spring of 2015 has been exceptionally great, and March in particular. With outstanding new releases by the likes of Enslaved, Nightwish and Moonspell, it would be terribly difficult to pick an album of the month - were it not for the new Barren Earth. Expectations were scaringly high after the band introduced their new vocalist Jón Aldará (also known for his work with Faroe doomsters Hamferđ) at the pre-Tuska gig last summer, and yet On Lonely Towers managed to exceed them. Given that much of the album was recorded live in the studio and features plenty of joyful jamming, there was hardly a doubt that the guys would pull off the complex new stuff just as confidently on stage, and sure enough they did.
Sadly and undeservedly, Nosturi was nowhere near sold out, but on the positive side, the designated drinking zone had been extended all the way to the front of the stage. The warm-up acts in particular profited from this novelty, as people actually went to see them from up close rather than listening from the bar area at the far end of the room. I only caught the last couple of minutes of Oceanwake but got to see the full set of Red Moon Architect.
Despite having heard good things about them in advance, I wasn´t entirely convinced by their performance. Most of it was slow doom metal in the vein of Shape of Despair, but fairly generic and too dragged out to keep up the momentum over more than half an hour. What I found weird was that despite the two singers performed an almost equal share of the vocals, one of them was placed a good deal farther to the back of the stage, making the one at the front look a bit out of place whenever it was his turn to be silent. I could well imagine Red Moon Architect late at night on the small stage of a festival or its after-hours club, but warming up is apparently not their strength.
Whatever impression the openers left, it didn´t take more than the piano intro "From The Depths Of Spring" to set the right mood for the main act. Corresponding to the album, it was followed by "Howl" and "Frozen Processions", both impressively demonstrating the skills of the new frontman. Filling Mikko Kotamäki´s boots is no job for the timid, but Jón not only growls just as menacingly but adds a completely new, almost operatic dimension to the clean parts. His bandmates further expanded the vocal array as they took turns providing complementing harmonies, for example in the verse of "Flicker" and the chorus of "The Leer". Between these two songs, Jón addressed the audience for the first time and stated that Helsinki was quickly becoming one of his favorite towns in the world. Well, I certainly hope for this affinity to warrant many more visits to come.
"Set Alight" started out softly before bursting into a firework of cascading melodies, although I wish that of all the possible moments in which the FOH engineer could have missed his cue, it wouldn´t have had to be Kasper Mĺrtenson´s keyboard solo in the middle of this song, which was barely audible. Apart from this little slip, however, a near-perfect balance was maintained between all instruments. The rare clarity of the low frequencies did justice to the nuanced playing of Oppu Laine, whose bass assumed a leading role on more than one occasion - a neat case in point being the wah melody in the verse of "A Shapeless Derelict".
While Barren Earth´s new album by several standards surpasses the earlier two, those were by no means neglectable efforts, and it was a bit of a pity if understandable that the set included only one song from The Devil´s Resolve. According to Jón, "The Rains Begin" was for the ladies and the subsequent "Cold Earth Chamber" (from the debut) for old guys who want to die. I don´t quite fit either description but enjoyed them just the same. The next song in turn felt as if it had been just for me, simply because I love it so much. "On Lonely Towers" still gives me the goosebumps almost every time I listen to it, the lyrics as well as the instrumental work and especially the guitars.
By the way, have I really come this far in my review without even mentioning Sami Yli-Sirniö and Janne Perttilä? This is not right - I shouldn´t take the awesomeness of these fine gentlemen for granted just because I can... Same goes for Marko Tarvonen of course, never mind that his performance peaks during this particular song had to compete with an ecstatic guitar solo and the finale of a heart-wrenching vocal performance. Besides its emotional depth, the twelve-minute epic also demonstrates the sheer width of Jón´s range, which comes close to spanning three octaves. And yes, he hit that high C# without flinching.
Even if the show had ended right after that song, it would have felt perfectly complete. But just like on the album, it was followed by "Chaos The Songs Within", yet another highlight that fully deserved its inclusion. And as someone who has followed this band quite literally from its first demo, I was more than happy when the encore turned out to be dear old "Floodred". As this tune adequately reminded the listener, Barren Earth were already one of the best bands in the country when they first started. All the more astounding it is to witness how much better yet they have become.
More photos: http://www.eurynomes-photos.com/barrenearth_020415.html
From The Depths Of Spring (Intro)
A Shapeless Derelict
The Rains Begin
Cold Earth Chamber
On Lonely Towers
Chaos the Songs Within