Album of the Year 2018 – Number 21

Welcome to the tenth chapter of 2018’s ‘Album of the Year’ series. I am now officially one third of the way through my annual tradition and it has literally flown past in a blur of riffs, solos, screams and everything in between, as I revel in the best music that 2028 has had to offer. Thanks to everyone so far for the support and the stamina in sticking with me through this undertaking – I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

Please keep those comments and insults coming because I really do love to hear what you think of my choices, good or bad. And, with another 20 to come after today, there are bound to be a few disagreements to emerge. I am thick-skinned, I can take it.

As always, if you’ve missed the previous picks in this series so far, links to these can be found at the bottom of this post.

But on with the show…

Number 21:

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Barren Earth
‘A Complex of Cages’
Century Media Records
Score of Much Metal: 9.5

I am personally just a little surprised in myself when I see this particular record outside my top 20. At the time that I reviewed it, I loved it and for good reason. In ‘A Complex of Cages’, Barren Earth managed to create an album that took a core of extreme metal and then blended it with a myriad of different influences to create a compelling end product full of twists and turns but ultimately, with enough memorability to hook listeners in for frequent repeated listens.

And, whilst that is indeed the case and I do still really love the music that features throughout this album, I don’t return to it as often as I thought I would. And so I have no choice but to place ‘A Complex of Cages’ at number 21 in this years’ list. Mind you, that’s not altogether shabby and the other 80 or more bands that have not made the list would have been happy with such a lofty position.

The best thing about Barren Earth’s latest effort has to be the willingness to take the songs exactly where they want, rather than pander to the preconceptions of those who might seek to place rules on what is and what isn’t allowed to be done within what is essentially an extreme metal record. As such, you get forays into psychedelic prog rock territory, the likes of which you might hear with latter-day Opeth. But in addition, there are extended, almost theatrical passages of dark and foreboding introspection as well as some interesting synth sounds and really expressive and rich clean vocals.

Don’t let my honest comments above colour your judgement because ‘A Complex of Cages’ is still a stellar record and deserves to be heard by as wide an audience as possible.

To quote my review of 30 March 2018:

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“And, whilst I have been well aware of the slowly changing output of Barren Earth, it still came as a bit of a surprise to note just how much the extreme element of the band’s material has reduced. I would suggest that it is close to a 50/50 split in terms of extremity versus something altogether less harsh and abrasive. If we’re talking vocals, I’d go even further and suggest that it is more like a 60/40 split in favour of clean, more mellifluous singing from Aldará over his more savage, deep growls.

More importantly however, is the way in which the sextet transition between the heavy and not-so-heavy material; it is executed so effortlessly and so smoothly that occasionally, you don’t even notice the point at which the music changed direction and focus. One minute we’re being treated to some all-out death metal extremity and then, in the blink of an eye, we’re in much more relaxed surroundings embellished with folk and progressive leanings, bordering on the psychedelic occasionally.

At all times therefore, I find the music on ‘A Complex of Cages’ to be deep, rich and thoroughly engaging. There are very few moments that don’t offer something intriguing, challenging or just plain beautiful.

When music is this powerful, engrossing and intelligent, it is hard not to get swept up and immersed in it. With ‘A Complex of Cages’, Barren Earth have easily unleashed their greatest album to date, the near-perfect blend of beauty and brutality, where every glorious twist and turn delivers something to delight and inspire the listener. If you want your metal to be extreme but also nuanced, sophisticated and elaborate, look no further than this rather brilliant record.”

Read the full review here.

If you missed the previous posts in my 2018 list, click here:

Album of the Year 2018 – Number 22
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 23
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 24
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 25
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 26
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 30

If you missed my ‘best EPs and compilations of 2018, you can read that here:

Album of the Year 2018 – EPs and Compilations

And here’s a reminder of my countdown series from previous years:

Album of the Year 2017
Album of the Year 2016
Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

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