The Baroness color wheel spins from tragedy to triumph
dB Rating: 9/10
Release Date: December 18th, 2015
Label: Abraxan Hymns
As everybody except our editor-in-chief knows, Stone Temple Pilots already put out an album called Purple. So, the only question is: Is this thing better than a record in which Scott Weiland wrote and sang the lines, “Take a bath / I’ll drink the water that you leave”? You will not be surprised to learn that it is, but you may be surprised to learn that it is also better than Baroness’s well-reviewed, sprawling-and-then-some double album Yellow & Green. Much better.
It’s not only oversimplifying, but flat-out wrong to call Yellow the “rock” half and Green the “acoustic” half, but maybe that’s how you perceive it three years after the fact. I do, at least. Either way, everyone remembers Baroness’s shit luck surrounding the album. Y&G came out on July 17, 2012; not a month later, the band incurred a physically and spiritually crippling bus crash near Bath, England that completely derailed any and all momentum—it wasn’t unrealistic at the time to think that the more infectious tracks on Y&G could propel these once grimy sludge-bringers into Mastodon’s rarified crossover stratosphere.
To founding frontman John Baizley and guitarist Pete Adams’ credit (they’re the only members remaining from the Y&G lineup; bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson have taken over for respective counterparts Matt Maggioni and Allen Blickle), Baroness’s long-delayed comeback does everything just right. Purple only has eight “real” songs (not counting mid-album instrumental segue “Fugue” and throwaway voice-modulated outro “Crossroads of Infinity”), and they all rule. “Morningstar” ignites with a riff that’s a little too beholden to Blue Record’s “War, Wisdom and Rhyme,” but if that’s the only thing worth bitching about—and it is—you know album number four’s got it going on. Blue Record may boast the most inventive arrangements this sometimes inconsistent band has offered to date, but Purple confidently finesses those hairpin twists and turns with Yellow’s abundance of rousing, shout-to-the-choir choruses.
The next three tracks—“Shock Me,” “Try to Disappear,” “Kerosene”—are this band’s bar-none best sustained run on album yet, from the former exploding out of a morose ambient intro to the tarantula of a lick that precedes the chorus of the second to the fist-pumping outro of the latter. It’s tempting to conflate some of Baizley’s lyrics to the bus accident, from “As my lungs deflate, you help me suffocate” (“Try to Disappear”) to “She cuts through my rib cage, pushes the pills deep in my eyes” (“Chlorine and Wine,” which incidentally works much better in context of the full album than as a single). You’ll have to wait for the Bennett Q&A for him to explain or not. Until then, exult in a band that knows how to trim the fat, and cross your fingers that they get a break or two. Figurative, this time.
Review originally printed in the January 2016 issue.