The Devil's Resolve
posted on 5/2012 By:
I appreciate the good intentions behind supergroups, but they have such a stigma of “cash-in” or “side project” inevitably tethered along. In my formative years as a music lover, earliest memories recall Temple of the Dog and Mad Season as proper projects in heavier realms, where “dedication to a fallen brother” and “fun new way to jam” seemed like better labels. But in more metallic terms, Down just solidified the notion of what a supergroup should be. Delivered at a high point of popularity for most members involved, yet still stripped of pretense, NOLA endures with classic status in my mind. But how do you get there? How do you avoid a mess like Hellyeah, and strike with the might of a Shrinebuilder?
It's difficult for us speculative armchair critic assholes to guess exactly why such groups form; better to focus on the end rather than the means, lest one believe a good-on-paper band like Charred Walls of the Damned works in practice. The key is – for now and evermore – memorable songwriting. This is how Barren Earth outpaces their brethren, now exceeding the loftiest of expectations on their sophomore set, as The Devil's Resolve brims with folky Finnish melodeath and ominous underlying doom.
Their 2010 full-length debut Curse of the Red River showcased a mature sound, likely due to the ~100 collective years of professional experience therein. Those of you tallying those numbers in the Metal Archives (as I just did) should cross-reference how many of these dudes have performed together …as long as you're there. Still, these stats mean shit without songs to back it up, and if a piece of each of these tunes isn't burned into your brain on first pass, then I'm sorry about your tinnitus and/or learning disability, because holydamnhaveyouheardthis?
The Devil's Resolve begins with a more specific shade of red, as “Passing of the Crimson Shadows” casts an imposing presence, sets a high bar for quality, and is pretty dang Opeth-y (but I can't place the similar song). Not only is it lively for its length, but I actually remember that main riff, that bridge, that chorus. This album is so catchy, it's criminal—does diplomatic artistic immunity exist? Because if not, Barren Earth could absolutely set a precedent.
The lynchpin of this band is really keyboardist Kaspar Mårtenson. Whether driving with a traditional piano sound or subtly adding atmosphere, his contributions are always necessary. Shoot, you wanna talk supergroups? I heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer parallels on their debut, and Mårtenson totally wanders back into Keith Emerson territory through the "As It is Written" midsection. The longest track here, it functions well as centerpiece, but also concludes what feels like 'Side A' of The Devil's Resolve as it gently fades to quiet. Then, smash cut to “The Dead Exiles” for a most ominous transition of DOOM, and the heaviest song here. However, sweetness is never too far away, as “Oriental Pyre” releases gentler flames, in much the same way lead single “The Rains Begin” cools the initial onslaught.
Despite writing a dozen tunes by this time last year, only eight were wisely included on the main album, alluding further to '70s-style production (although, funny enough, The Devil's Resolve is not available on vinyl). Plus, Jukka Varmo returned to produce and engineer, while Dan Swanö's delicious mix perfects that which is already great. There is a welcoming warmth that both radiates from the speakers, and immediately greets the eyes with Paul Romano's intense artwork. Every song offers something to love, and even lesser moments like “White Fields” command respect. Whether supergroup, side project or what-have-you, mark your metal maps with Barren Earth—hardly a wasteland, and well worth exploring.
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