When Barren Earth first appeared on the scene in 2007 with the ‘Our twilight’ EP it was hard not to be impressed by the band’s intelligent take on progressive metal. Formed by members of revered acts including Swallow the sun, Amorphis, Kreator and Moonsorrow, the sounds the band crafted showed a great potential, and one which was further explored on the full-length debut ‘Curse of the red river’, released to wide critical acclaim in 2009 via Peaceville. Fans flocked to the band in droves, drawn in by the complex structures and memorable tunes and yet it was still hard to imagine the leaps and bounds by which Barren Earth would develop on the magical, beautiful ‘the Devil’s resolve’, released this year once more by Peaceville (and reviewed here)
Offering a deeper, more seventies influenced sound than its predecessor, ‘The devil’s resolve’ still offers plenty of visceral metal thrills, but this time the progressive aspects are more firmly to the fore, whilst softer vocals lend greater depth still to the eight songs that make up the album. It is a remarkable work of art that is, without doubt, one of the early highlights of 2012 no matter what strain of metal you call your own. With stunning artwork and a warm sound that embraces you as you drift away within the music ‘the devil’s resolve’ is one of those records that you know will stay with you for the rest of your life. We were lucky indeed to catch up with keyboardist/vocalist Kasper Mårtenson who was happy to discuss the influences and formation of the band with us in this exclusive interview.
The new album seems to have developed upon the progressive sound that was clearly present on your debut but which seem to have come more to the fore this time round – how do you feel you’ve developed in the interim in terms of song writing?
I think the first album was a clear demonstration of what’s possible for Barren Earth. It effectively established the different personalities of the writers, as well as the capabilities of the instrumentalists. With the new album we were able to continue from where we finished the last time. And knowing what is possible to the players meant that we could write certain things which take full use of the players’ abilities.
Given that the members all have other commitments, was it difficult to get together to write this album?
Not really, because we don’t write together! All the songs are individual compositions. ¤ of them are by Olli-Pekka, 2 by me, and 1 by Janne and Marko respectively. Everybody writes his own songs at home, and presents them to the rest of the band only when the song is structurally complete. The other players only get involved in the arrangement process.
Is the writing process a result of collaboration or is it more that you work on ideas in isolation and then flesh them out as a band?
The latter is the case (see above).
How long did the album take to write and record?
The first songs were written already before the debut album came out. The song-writing process lasted from about early 2010 to Spring 2011. Recording took about 3 weeks in May-June 2011.
You’re doing a few live dates in support of the album, is there any chance that we’ll see you in the UK?
We sure would hope to do shows in Europe, especially as we’ve already toured the States. But any potential touring activity is affected by Kreator, Swallow The Sun and Moonsorrow, all of whom will be touring later on this year. So there is a chance, but currently nothing is confirmed.
The album artwork is particularly stunning – who created it and did the band have much input into the cover and booklet layout?
The artwork was done by Paul Romano. He’s worked with Mastodon and some other bands, too. We sent him some lyrics for inspiration, and he came up with all the images. We left it to him to do the layout. He did send us 2 options for the cover itself, and we chose the one which is there at the present. That was our only input. But I agree, the artwork and the layout is very nice.
The first album – ‘the curse of the red river’ – was very well received; did that create any sense of pressure when writing and recording the new album?
Not really, because there has always been a tremendous wealth of material around to choose from. As there are 4 writers in the band this means that there is always more material than we can actually use. So we can always get rid of the tracks we feel might not be strong enough.
You’ve all been musicians for some time, but Barren Earth came into being at a time when discussions about the prevalence of the internet and downloading music have reached fever pitch – do you think that the internet has been more of a help or a hindrance to getting the name of Barren Earth out there?
The internet has its pros and cons. The pros are that the music gets easily spread all over the world, and we got recognition even en remote places last year while touring the US and Canada. The cons are that, like everybody else, we are affected by the downward spiral of actual album sales.
You chose to sign with Peaceville – a label that seems to be the perfect home to you given the other acts in their catalogue – how did you end up signing to the label?
There were other companies interested in BE too, but Peaceville were the only ones we met face to face. We struck a good rapport with them from the start.
Last time out we were treated to an EP and then the album – are there any extra tracks out there from the ‘Devil’s resolve’ sessions that might see the light of day at some point?
Yes. All in all there are 3 leftover tracks. Two of these, Martyrs of Devotion and World In Haze, are on the Special Edition of the album, and the last, Passage Unfolds, will be on the Japanese version. It is a pure ballad!
It felt like there was a greater use of clean vocals this time out – was that a conscious decision or just a result of the way the music was flowing?
I’d say the latter was the case. The nature of the vocals is usually dictated by what’s going on in the background. If there are busy melodies going on, it might be better to use growling so as not to provide too much musical information.
What inspired the lyrics for the new album? Was there any particular art or literature that provided inspiration?
The lyrics are usually written by the same person who writes the music. I can’t really comment on this, since I’m the only person in the band who doesn’t write lyrics. I’ve outsourced this procedure to a friend of mine, Jussi K. Niemelä. I think lyrical inspiration comes from usual the miserable stuff one reads about in the news: war, pollution, religious fanaticism, etc.
You’re on your second album now – is there a desire there to keep going? What are your ambitions for the band?
Definitely. We’ve already written some brand new material. When the band started in late 2007 I never thought we’d reach this point where we are right now. The momentum of Barren Earth has constantly grown, and I can only hope it will continue to do so. There’s certainly no shortage of new Barren Earth music in the foreseeable future.
Any final words for our readers?
Accept no abuse – unless it’s Sonic Abuse! Also, for those who like their death metal folky and proggy and infused with, yes, bagpipes, look no further than the new Barren Earth album!
*B&W Photo by Aki Roukala