Barren Earth are both a fairly new but also familiar sounding group whose fronds dig deep into the frozen soil of Finland and comprise members of many well known acts from the land synonymous with atmospheric doom and gloomy sounds. The newly released second album The Devil’s Resolve sees the band honing the ideas forged on debut album ‘Curse Of The Red River’ and formulating a work that is epic, progressive and mature. Ave Noctum caught up with keyboard player Kasper Mårtenson to talk about the bands growth and that new album.
Ave Noctum: Although very much an entity in your own right I think it’s fair enough to give you that ‘super-group’ tag as well. There are six of you involved in Barren Earth, did you all know each other fairly well when it came to putting the group together?
K: Mainly so. With the exception of Mikko, we’d known each other for years. Mikko was a new acquaintance for Sami and Oppu too.
Ave Noctum: What were the original goals of the group, what were you hoping to achieve that is different from what you are already involved in?
K: Being as there are 6 very different characters in BE, everybody probably had his own thoughts and aspirations. Speaking for myself, my attitude was ‘this is a very interesting combination of players and writers. Let’s just see what happens.’ I have constantly tried to avoid any expectations. I’ve been more concerned with concentrating on the present moment, and doing the best I can, and seeing where it leads. For me, though, Barren Earth signifies a return to metal, since I hadn’t really been active on that front since the mid 90’s. A personal goal was to see if I have anything to offer as a writer and as a player.
Ave Noctum: Just to put those of us who might be a bit confused in the picture what other bands are the members of Barren Earth still also actively involved in at present?
K: Mikko sings in Swallow The Sun, Sami plays in Kreator, and Marko plays in Moonsorrow. And Janne plays in the live line up of Moonsorrow as well. Myself I’m a freelance musician, gigging occasionally with various groups, or in solo or duo setting. I also have my own folkish band called Venho.
Ave Noctum: How do you consider Barren Earth? Is it a main concern or something that you will work on around the other groups and how easy or difficult has it been so far to work around conflicting schedules?
K: Barren Earth’s importance has grown steadily throughout the years. But it has yet to replace the other bands as the top priority. Working with conflicting schedules is not easy. Considering that, though, we’ve actually managed to do quite a bit of live work, most notably a 5-week US tour last year.
Ave Noctum: It’s a bit of an obvious question and it is really surprising that perhaps a Russian doom band from darkest Siberia did not come up with the name Barren Earth before. It is a perfectly descriptive name for a group playing this type of music. Who came up with it, was it an immediate and obvious choice?
K: The suggestion came from me. I took it originally from a line in a Van der Graaf Generator song, which happens to be a band whose music and lyrics I am very into.
Ave Noctum: When you originally released your debut EP ‘Our Twilight’ you were already with Peaceville Records I believe. The label is certainly very canny picking new acts and goes for quality over quantity. Was there a lot of label interest in the group and what made you decide uponYorkshire’s finest?
K: There were some other interested parties too but Peaceville were the only ones we actually met face to face. We established a good rapport with them from the outset.
Ave Noctum: The debut album followed swiftly from the EP. At the time I remember posing the question is this death, or doom, or perhaps prog? Is it deathdoomprog? I suppose there is no right or wrong answer, was this the sort of thing you wanted to achieve, a sound that was not restricted to genre and one that got the listener thinking?
K: I saw Opeth live in 2006, and was very impressed. What struck me most was the way they so effortlessly combined metal with ambitious structures and dynamics. I remember thinking that this would be an interesting path to explore, both as a writer and a player. The following year when Oppu presented the outlines of what was later to become BE, I sensed that it could very well be the kind of thing I’d be interested in. Happily, that’s what Oppu had in mind too. But I think the whole element of prog was further enhanced by people like Marko and Sami, who are very capable of playing intricate stuff. Might as well employ their talents to the full. As far as my end of it goes, the more progressive the better!
Ave Noctum: It’s an incredibly solid debut album and one that is pretty difficult to build upon. Did you find it a challenge to try and follow it up or did the ideas for ‘The Devil’s Resolve’ come naturally?
K: It became very naturally. If there’d only one or two writers, there might have been some pressure, but since there are actually four, there is no shortage of material, and we can always get rid of any songs which are perceived as being weak.
Ave Noctum: Considering everything else you are all involved with, two years does not seem that long between albums. Tell us a bit about the writing and recording process of the new album please?
K: The recording was in fact done already last June, and the album was originally aimed at an October release. The postponement was due to various delays in the later stages of the production process. The writing process began already 2 years ago, before The Curse… was even out. As the writing is mainly done individually, it is something that everybody can do when suitable for him, and so the stream of new material flowed constantly all the way through 2010 and early 2011. For info on the recording process, may I guide you to the Studio Diary I wrote.
(http://www.barrenearth.com/diary/the-devil-s-resolve-studio-diary) This should give you a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective on the proceedings.
Ave Noctum: Do you ever find yourself putting a song together and thinking “agh no that sounds too like” Swallow The Sun/ Amorphis / insert band name here, and end up scrapping it or trying to change things?
K: There was one song written by Oppu which I felt sounded too much like Elegy-era Amorphis. And it wasn’t just the song, it was the keyboard arrangement (courtesy of Oppu too). I was against the inclusion of the track, because although a good song, it failed to offer anything new. It was just a recycling of old ideas. It didn’t make the album.
With my own songs I’ve tried to offer a fresh angle to the proceedings. It is true that my songs tend to have a modal folk feel, and it is very difficult to change that, since that’s part of who I am. And that vibe is prevalent in things I’ve done in the past, most notably on Black Winter Day from Tales From The Thousand Lakes. And it is present in Barren Earth too. But I always try to take those folk elements into different territories. A prime example of this would be As It Is Written, which I especially feel is covering new ground.
Ave Noctum: The artwork both on the cover and inside of the booklet is incredibly striking and imaginative. You went with Paul Romano this time rather than Travis Smith. What made you decide upon him?
K: I loved Travis Smith’s work for The Curse…, and would’ve happily used him this time around too. But there was a view in the band that he is currently over-used and ubiquitous. Don’t know if that is so, and even if it is, I didn’t see it as an issue. However, the name of Romano came up and we went with him.
Ave Noctum: I see that lyrically several members are involved in the writing and things are incredibly poetic. Is there any sort of concept to the album in particular? Just reading them brings a shiver down my spine; it’s all very cold and wet J
K: This is a very frequently asked question. Alas, the answer is no. There is no underlying theme, and the album is not a concept album. But the lyrics do manage to match the mood of the music quite nicely, yes.
Ave Noctum: It’s pretty evident where your love of atmospheric death and doom come from but who are the ‘Prog-Heads’ and which bands provide inspiration in particular?
K: I’d say that the main prog-head in BE would be me. Sure, we all listen to that stuff to a certain extent, but whereas the others are primarily versed in metal, I’m pretty much the opposite. Main influences would include Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, etc.
Ave Noctum: The keyboard work courtesy of Kasper Mårtenson is sublime on numbers like ‘The Rain Begins’ it is instantly evident that these melodies come from the player on the early Amorphis albums but then as the track progresses I could not help but think of Keith Emerson too. It’s an integral part of the overall sound. What keyboards in particular were used on the album?
K: Well thank you! I used Hammond C-3 with a Leslie speaker, Minimoog, mellotron (sampled, not real). Other sounds came from Nord Stage, and Yamaha S-90 ES. We also used a bit of Solina string machine.
Ave Noctum: You just did a quite artistic black and white video for that track. Some of the live footage looked like it had come straight out of classic 70s’ TV programme The Old Grey Whistle Test. Tell us a bit about the filming of it (link to clip to be inserted)
Again, I wrote detailed diary entries concerning the filming sessions. They are not yet on our website, but can be seen on our Facebook page:
Ave Noctum: As for ‘As It Is Written’ what a track, surely one of the catchiest listens of the year. It has been renamed ‘The Scottish Song’ round my parts and it’s not just down to the bagpipes but the keys again, which really remind me of Marillion.
Finland-Scotland, whose warped head did this one come from?
K: Thanks again, for it is a song written by me! The main melody was something I’d had lying around for ages. It has a certain Scottish vibe to it, and so the working title was indeed,Scotland. The idea to use bagpipes started as a joke, but actually they sound quite cool! And it’s been already 38 years since AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top, so it’s about time that rock’n roll and bagpipes were reunited!
Ave Noctum: The album begs to be heard live especially on a sunny festival afternoon (so you can no doubt make it rain) looking at your website you only have a few Finnish dates though. Is it a case of conflicting schedules again or do you hope to take the band further afield? I guess a tour with Swallow The Sun is a bit too much hard work for Mikko?
K: Yes, booking a tour for BE is not a very straightforward procedure. But there are people looking into the possibilities of doing something longer later on in the year. Fingers crossed…
Ave Noctum: Well fingers crossed we maybe able to sup a brew together at some point when you play in the future but in the meantime anything you want to add to our readers?
K: Let’s see if a pun works here: Readers of Ave Noctum, always remember to be’ave!
If you like your death metal infused with folk and prog and, yes, bagpipes look no further than Barren Earth!
Cheers, Kasper Mårtenson
Interview by Pete Woods