Sound: After getting a taste of things to come with Barren Earth's EP Our Twilight, it was difficult to imagine how Finnish death metal outfit could pack their full-length with even more epic material than what had already been heard. But lo and behold, The Curse of the Red River delivers in full. With a team of heavy players including the likes of Kreator/Waltari guitarist Sami Yli-Sirni, Swallow The Sun vocalist Mikko Kotamki, and Moonsorrow drummer Marko Tarvonen, Barren Earth have taken their varied background to pretty much master the art of heaviness. The sextet's sound certainly gives a nod to a variety of death metal bands, but you'll also hear tinges of Opeth, Pink Floyd, and prog-metal in the mix.
Starting off the CD is the title track, an introductory song that takes its time building in intensity. Rather than explode with a barrage of double bass pedal or warped-speed lead work, Barren Earth opt for a slow, heavy first few moments that eventually delivers a big payoff. Guitarists Yli-Sirni and Janne Perttil integrate creative uses for pinch harmonics during the verse, which are actually standout moments within the song. Just when you think you have an idea of what the remaining structure of the song will resemble, the band channels its Jethro Tull tendencies and brings out the flute. This surprising turn is fairly representative for The Curse of the Red River, which is consistently an engaging listen.
The band wisely balances between clean and death vocals, with the bulk of the songs featuring memorable choruses that you'll likely find yourself humming (particularly Our Twilight) after one or two listens. Cold Earth Chamber creates yet another interesting vocal diversion with a spoken-word portion. The audio mix tends to keep all the vocals toned down, and in the end it is the instrumentation that comes to the forefront.
Cinematic is the word that does keep coming to mind while listening to The Curse of the Red River, primarily because there are so many musical paths that Barren Earth takes. They prove their musical chops time and time again throughout the CD, whether it is via a flute or a stripped-down section with only a classical acoustic and piano (Flicker). The arrangements aren't built to sound like any particular genre and don't ever reach the kind of speed that will appeal to some avid metal fans out there, but their mish-mesh of genres should likely appeal to a wider audience in the long run. // 8
Lyrics: As was mentioned in a previous review for the EP Our Twilight, Barren Earth's lyrical content shares the same epic approach that the music takes. There's a certain doomsday vibe to many of the themes, but they don't necessarily rely on your typical rhyme scheme. The free verse form that the band does use is poetic in nature and works well, particularly considering the music isn't confined by any traditional structure, either. // 8
Overall Impression: The prog-metal nature of The Curse of the Red River in many ways overshadows the death metal label often applied to Barren Earth. There is undeniable talent among the six musicians, and it's fascinating to hear a lithesome flute in one moment, a Dream Theater-esque keyboard solo in another, and doomsday riffage in the next. Again, it may lack some of the speed or vocal intensity that drives other traditional metal bands out there, but Barren Earth's impressive, textured arrangements don't leave you disappointed. // 9