Not everyone got on board with BARONESS‘s last album “Yellow & Green”. However, most fans recognized it as one of the bravest albums the heavy underground turned out in recent years. Embracing more of BARONESS‘s space rock, trad metal, alternative, punk and Eighties rawk affinities, “Yellow & Green” advanced this band beyond the sludge-prog foundations staked by their heavily vivid “Red” and “Blue” albums.
Since the breakout success of “Yellow & Green”, BARONESS suffered a shakeup beginning with the 2012 bus crash near Bath, England that left John Baizley with a broken arm and leg, and ultimately a broken band. Exit Allen Blickle and Matt Maggioni, enter Sebastian Thomson and Nick Jost respectively, and BARONESS not only has new life, it’s officially on fire.
Haters from three years ago are likely to keep on hating as BARONESS reels along their proverbial kaleidoscope, dropping through an amethystine turnstile on “Purple”. Decidedly heavier than “Yellow & Green”, John Baizley and his revitalized quartet pick up where they left off, playing to their own desires and engineering another daring, rock-first, metal-second album.
The opening number “Morningstar” is bound to drag comparisons to MASTODON due to its lurching progressions, booming chords and plentiful drum rolls, at least until John Baizley begins singing and the song morphs into a strident rocker. Critics of “Yellow &Green” are likely to be happy at least with the heaviness of “Morningstar”, though they might balk at the choruses pop flares here and on the subsequent track, “Shock Me”. Not a cover of the KISS classic, of course, “Shock Me” shows BARONESS so comfortable in their own skins that they dare to lead off and splash the track with squelching keys. BARONESS plugs as much confidence into this song as MASTODON did on “Curl of the Burl”, risking rebuff by hitting tuneful heights while straining their amps in the process. “Shock Me” is a risk well-taken; it’s a rewarding thumper.
“Try to Disappear” prances on its alt-bent verses but kicks out the jams on the boisterous choruses. There’s still a pop verve to this track that only misses out at a crack at FM due to its sludgy fortifications and fiddly progressions along the way. “Kerosene” sweats all over its hyper, guitar-slashing verses and airborne melodies. Dashes of MASTODON fill the more complicated parts of “Kerosene”, which hits both melodic and grungy heights. If not for the preview of what was to come in BARONESS with “Yellow & Green”, a song this grand wouldn’t seem fathomable. The thudding finale to “Kerosene”: holy Christ, nearly as invigorating as the dominant chimes holding court over the moody brawn of “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain) “.
The aloof yet swarming instrumental, “Fugue”, toys with jazz keys and pure rock lines, and sets up the seven-minute dream-a-rama of “Chlorine & Wine”. The latter moves lithely on soothing keys and placating guitar plucks for two minutes until hitting the distortion and John Baizley‘s raspy crooning. There’s a momentary METALLICA-mindedness to “Chlorine & Wine” the longer it builds steam, right down to a gorgeous tag guitar solo. Yet BARONESS drops the song on its own head by tumbling the huffing sections into a stunning freefall and a guitar-wailing, drum-crashing finish.
“The Iron Bell” is a foot-tapping conventional rocker in the vein of LOVERBOY of all things. Assimilated from the early Eighties with more urgency to the chords, the song has deeper bass and guitar scrapes inside an extensively scratchy solo section. Consulting the MASTODON playbook again for sections on “Desperation Burns”, BARONESS pounds their nastiest chords en route to a loud and chewy affair where eerie keys swirl about it like ether.
If you’re still holding out for the manic crush of BARONESS‘s earlier sludge fests, get over it. This band has evolved threefold and “Purple” is nearly equal to the ingenuity displayed on “Yellow & Green”. Peter Adams is a maestro of reverb and twang, and his will to wedge musicality into the album’s blatant tone drenches makes it another enthralling listen.