You Need to Hear: Baroness

11 Mar

Baroness Kicking Typical Arse

Is it gay to love these men?

It’s not often that you fall completely in love with a band. Before Baroness assumed the corny mantle of “my favourite band”, I hadn’t had such a teenage-style music crush since my devotion to Roots Manuva before my return to the metal fold.

The list over the years is pretty short (and wierdly mainstream): vintage-era Metallica and Slayer, Nirvana (at the time), Atmosphere, The Roots, DJ Shadow, pre-’92 REM, The Stone Roses and Neds Atomic Dustbin. Sure there’s loads of records I’m absolutely obsessed with  but full-on band fandom? That type of musical lightning doesn’t strike too often, especially as you get older and music becomes more fragmented in general.

Baroness first popped onto my radar in late 2009 when I trawled the inimitable Adrian Legrand’s top 20 metal albums of 2009 and found Blue Record at #4.

I think this list may have also alerted me to the existence of Kylesa – another recent favourite – so thanks Adrian!

I’ll admit that when I heard songs like Horse Called Golgotha in isolation, they didn’t immediately resonate. It took listening Blue Record end-to-end to truly appreciate it’s muscular beauty and power. This is album-as-experience where quiet interludes pave the way for rip-roarers rather than a mere collection of songs.

Bullhead’s Psalm opens the album so sweetly and mournfully with a simple acoustic melody with a hint of southern twang. At just over a minute, it’s a real calm before the storm moment and you know when the final trailing note distorts into an ascending squeal that a hammer blow is about to fall.

And it’s to Baroness and producer John Congleton’s eternal discredit that the guitar tone on the resulting galloping opening riff on The Sweetest Curse is more Shetland Pony than raging stallion, despite the quality of the riff and roar. It’s the one disappointment on the album.

Fortunately the disappointment of that missed opportunity for a real sucker punch is swiftly forgotten once the song is underway and your ears become attuned to the slightly muted tone. Don’t get me wrong there’s much to love on The Sweetest Curse: the arousing overlap between the lead and the backing vocals; juicy, oh-so-musical riffs and dynamics a-plenty.

Baroness are ace

Baroness - Georgian metal gods

The energy builds with Jake Leg, full of complex, almost jittery leads and wonderful little sonic details that ornament the breakdowns. It’s almost dub-like in its attention to detail and movement across the stereo spectrum. Yet it’s the forward momentum that really characterises this song, both in terms of the almost cosy roar of John Baizley’s voice and the hooky, almost bluesy southern rock riffs with pyschedelic motifs scrawled over the top. It’s sludgy for sure but Crowbar this ain’t.

Then it’s time for another of those interludes. Steel That Sleeps The Eye introduces some clean, harmonised vocals over the phased acoustica and swirling, rumbling effects that hark back to the album opener and build tension for yet another big number Swollen and Halo. It’s these sonic details that set the album apart from its rivals – there’s always so much going on, even when the riffs are pumping. It’s a cool touch that the bellowed vocals reference the previous song title, adding to the overall sense of coherence.

The riffs are certainly powerful and heavy but they are always euphoric, never dissonant or dirty. Full of chiming melody as opposed to filth. That’s the thing about Baroness – to the average music fan, they are certainly loud and heavy but they are never ugly or brutal. I love that about them, how the guitars swirl and dance like vintage Smashing Pumpkins or My Bloody Valentine.

The quiet interlude/ripping follow-up formula is repeated with Ogechee Hymnal and Horse Called Golgotha. The songs are so intertwined that it’s impossible to listen to one without the other. I love Horse… but it owes so much of its power to what comes before, those sheets of reverbed distortion and Pink Floydisms.

But hot god-damn is Horse… a motherfucking storm-trooper of a song! Such chug and slash and burn! If you can listen and not be moved, you are surely dead inside. “The stained horizon/of the dark rein and rider/the steed named Golgotha” – class.

is that cool or what?

Baizley can draw a bit too

To be honest Blue Record peaks here but it’s still well worth listening on. O’er Hell and Hide mixes sampled(?) spoken word with distortion-streaked harmonic-soaked riffery.

I’ll admit that this track and War, Wisdom and Rhyme, while excellent, do bleed into each other a little despite an awesome solo and absolutely euphoric roaring vocal in the climactic moments of the latter.

Blackpower Orchard is yet another acoustic motif of just over a minute but it’s mid-tempo melodies are the perfect introduction to the acoustic-picked stylings of the opening bars of The Gnashing. Baroness really nail it with this one. Ringing open-stringed chords usher in another arse-tearing galloper and it’s a joy to behold. Chuggy, propulsive, melodic – it’s all the things Baroness do so well. The vocals, awesome as ever, don’t even come in until 70% of the song is done and that’s just fine.

Then all of a sudden Bullhead’s Lament reworks the melody of the opening track but instead of the the distorted scream leading to more, it just cuts out. Somehow, it’s perfect.

Wow, that’s a lot of words about one album. It’s just so easy to talk about Baroness – they offer so much more than your typical metal band. For those who accuse them of being hipsters or Mastodon clones, you clearly aren’t listening.

For the sake of the tl;dr crew, I’ll save Red and First & Second for subsequent posts. If you haven’t heard Baroness, seriously – sort it out.


One Response to “You Need to Hear: Baroness”

  1. Rich March 12, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Currently the love affair is in its early stages for me, needing to listen to Red Album and Blue record at least every couple of days at the moment! Today’s Red Album hit is just coming to a close!

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