The new Barren Earth album, "On Lonely Towers" marks some major changes for the band. Gone is original vocalist Mikko Kotamäki and replacing him is Jón Aldará. The band also got signed to Century Media, a much larger label. The other big change is the album itself. Obviously changing vocalists can go one of two ways. Either the band looks for a singer who is basically a clone of the last vocalist or they go with someone who sounds completely different. Barren Earth saw this as an opportunity to make a complete change. While Aldará's harsh vocals are similar to Kotamäki, his clean vocals are strikingly different. The nearest comparison that I can make is that he sounds more like ICS Vortex
(especially in his higher register), with a very dramatic, almost operatic delivery.
The next change was the music itself. Now don't worry, the band is still very much Barren Earth and are firmly a progressive death metal band, but the doom element and even the 70s prog element are not in every single song. The title track is really the place where both doom and old school prog show up in the same place.
The song has everything the band is already known for PLUS more atmosphere and
power than ever before! And the epic closer "The Vault" has some absolutely jaw dropping playing that will please any prog fan.
The album overall seems more progressive in that the band has consciously decided to ADD to their sound and push themselves beyond what they did on both of their first two records. "Howl" is an upbeat song that reminds me a lot of the Japanese prog metal band, Sigh. Since I love Sigh, it works for me just fine. "Sirens of Oblivion" is another serious prog rocker that even has a sax in it (did I mention Sigh?). The band is made up of some former members of Amorphis and that was much more obvious on the first two records. The folk metal element has been almost completely set aside, although the opening instrumental, "From The Depths of Spring," could open the next Amorphis album and not be out of place.
The bottom line here is that fans of Barren Earth will definitely be surprised by this record, both vocally and even musically. I think the album will have a more broad appeal to other fans of the genre but let's face it, they still will never get called mainstream. "On Lonely Towers" is an amazing album that shows what being progressive truly means. More bands need to take bold chances like this. Barren Earth are still Barren Earth but they have gone a long way in establishing their own sound rather than just seeming like a cross between Opeth and Amorphis. This album is why I love this genre of metal.