Sunday, October 18th 2009
For awhile now, we’ve been noticing Baroness’ name on bills alongside such respectable bands as Opeth, High On Fire, and Converge. We missed their set while interviewing Clutch at the local stop on their most recent tour, but we had caught a bit of their soundcheck, and promised ourselves to follow up.
The band’s 2007 debut Red Album was so impressive, Revolver Magazine named it the best of the year. The follow-up, Blue Record, was released last week, and is our introduction to the four piece from Savannah, Georgia.
Baroness doesn’t perfectly fit into the ‘sludge metal’ pigeonhole that they’ve been assigned to. Despite the trench-digging vocals, the backing music sparkles, quite often free of muffling distortion. Most of the time, it’s closer to the assumably more refined ‘stoner metal’ or ‘desert rock,’ with parts of songs like Swollen And Halo, and the thoroughly outstanding Horse Called Golgotha approaching similarities to such mainstream-ish acts as Down and Queens Of The Stone Age.
It’s even easier to draw comparisons to both the progressive metal bands they’ve toured with, as well as melodic post-rock bands like Bossk and Mono. The wandering, instrumental delay pedaled daydream intro Bullhead’s Psalm is a striking example of the latter, while as in the end of War, Wisdom And Rhyme, John Baizley and Peter Adams’ dueling guitars are frequently heard trying to outdo each others’ notes per second scores.
With that said, the Blue Record impressively maneuvers through all of these different neighborhoods, deftly avoiding their clichés and pitfalls. You don’t need a six inch beard and six foot bong to feel the groove. You don’t need the attention span of a monk to make it through instrumental expanses before the thundering crescendos. And perhaps most importantly, it has soul you can appreciate, without needing some sputtering Guitar Center candy striper to over-enthusiastically explain to you how freaking impossible it is to play that part you just totally missed, man.
The Blue Record is of course, an album album, one played start to finish, with each song seamlessly flowing into the next. However, unlike many albums of that sort, it doesn’t take two weeks of studying the album to know where those transitions actually are; where one song begins and another ends. The songs have distinct personalities, many immediately memorable.
O’er Hell And Hide couldn’t have picked a better name for itself, breaking into a determined gallop after an acoustic intro. Besides some sampled narrative, it’s an instrumental battle drive through the netherworld, culminating with a manic explosion of noise and feedback that leads into the aforementioned War, Wisdom, And Rhyme, one of the album’s more shred-heavy cuts.
The few short tracks, two of which are acoustic, are a little more than disposable interludes for the most part. Steel That Sleeps The Eye is a haunting ballad that mostly serves to set up the thundering melodic doom of Swollen And Halo, but could just as well stand on its own.
Ogeechee Hymnal is sort of a bizarro post-rock song; condensed to two and a half minutes and placing the noise landscape after the turbulent power chords rather than before. Again, it’s primarily the set-up for following track, Golgotha in this case. The noise section isn’t crucial, but that’s the only exception to the album’s substance ratio. Blackpowder Orchard is a bold anomaly, a rambling acoustic passage that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on Houses Of The Holy.
The complete album is conveniently streaming over at Relapse’s site, but to jump right to the point, here’s one of the highlights, third track Jake Leg, a handsome sampler of prog and stoner riffing.
I dare place the Blue Record alongside such genre-bending masterpieces as Neurosis’ Given To The Rising, and an underrated personal favorite of mine, Taint’s Ruin Of Nová Roma.