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Baroness - Blue Record CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.42 | 71 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Champions of Rock and Roll Guitar

Some bands and albums transcend genre and taste simply because their energy is so good. Baroness is a band that is easy to love. Their common guy, hard working fire is evident all over their work. Lead vocalist / guitarist John Baizley has one of the ugliest mugs in music right now, but he is a multi-talented force whose best work may be his visual artistry. (He has designed album covers for multiple artists, including the phenomenal earth-goddess painting on this, his own band's BLUE RECORD.) Baroness is a band with multiple progressive sensibilities, even if they are not a purely "prog" band. But one thing is certain. Few, if any, bands out right now are as rock and roll as these guys. Their sound is simultaneously raw and carefully constructed. Their chemistry is great. In fact, the interplay between Baizley and second guitarist Brian Blickle is the foundation of the band's sound. Twin guitars, weaving in and out, trading lead and support, harmony solos, double grooves, they have it all. As a guitar lover, BLUE RECORD is simply a delight.

I was first exposed to Baroness as an unknown (to me) supporting act for Opeth during the former's tour for their RED RECORD. Though the sound was bad (as it is for all openers at the venue I was at), I knew that something really interesting was happening with this band. I sampled a few songs and liked them, but it wasn't until I started looking into this newer album that I was really hooked. The teaser single "Swollen and Halo" was an improvement on the sound I'd heard before, but it is really the entire album experience that grabs me. The band has clearly spent some careful time thinking about the transitions and pacing of the album. There are some textural short pieces ("Steel that Sleeps the Eye," "Ogeechee Hymnal") that are based on melodic themes from neighboring songs. The album is bookended by "Bullhead's Psalm" and "Bullhead's Lament" which are quieter pieces featuring harmony guitar leads. And in between are some octane-filled rockers that are perfect for jamming on the road, working out, and work just as well on headphones as they do on a car stereo ("Horse Called Golgotha," "Jake Leg".)

Singing in metal these days (maybe always) can be an acquired taste. Baroness is no different in this regard. I would describe Baizley's vocals as shouting on pitch. There is a clear melodic contour the vocals, but truly sung voice is heard only once. Even two years ago when I saw the band live, this was difficult for me to get past. Now that I've learned to put up with vocals from bands like Death, Maudlin of the Well, and various post-metal outfits, Baroness' seem relatively palatable. Still, guitar is the star of the show here, with some nice drumming in support. All the instruments have a live feel, a natural sound that one can imagine being able to produce in the garage (possibly with a stomp box or two.)

One other reviewer bemoaned the fact that virtually anything will pass for prog these days and that this is relatively straightforward stoner metal. Several years ago, I was an avid Queens of the Stone Age fan. So I pulled a few of those discs out to compare. While QotSA has some outstanding songwriting (and more listener-friendly vocals) the level of complexity is like night and day. Baroness clearly exists within the same realm of music, but there are so many more riffs, more layers, greater complexity. There is no doubt that the band follows some prog ideals, most importantly being the idea of intentional composition. I notice no improvised leads (or in fact wankery of any sort) on the record at all. The melodic lines are clearly worked out, the interplay composed. This is not a Metallica-style riff with blues based soloing over the top. These are songs, carefully put together from the first note of the album to the last.

The closest prog album I own to this is Mastodon's CRACK THE SKYE. While Mastodon's vocals and composition are both a notch higher in quality, and the record is clearly "proggier," Baroness wins in terms of pure energy. This is saying a lot, because CRACK THE SKYE was one of the most rocking records of the year 2009. Each has their own strengths, each a deserved place in any prog metal lover's library. 4/5 stars.

Negoba | 4/5 |


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