Originally based in Savannah, Georgia, Baroness increasingly gathered the attention of those wanting a heavy sound with touches of alt rock, sludge and stoner rock. Their EPs released between 2004 to 2007, named First, Second and A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk (aka Third) warranted them recognition in the alternative circuit, and since their debut Red in 2007, the band has gone bigger with every release.
Things took a dramatic turn for them in 2012, when the band was touring in Europe and their van fell from a viaduct, leaving nine passengers injured and an indelible mark in their history. Front-man John Baizley spent several months in the hospital, and two band members decided not to carry on after the accident. It would be almost a year until they toured again, and the album following such tragedy, 2015’s Purple, was cathartic in its lyrics, sound and album cover.
Now, having toured extensively to promote Purple, relocated to Philadelphia and with another lineup change – long time collaborator Peter Adams left in 2017 and was replaced by Gina Gleason – it was time to write a new chapter in their lives. Thus, Gold & Grey was born. While its predecessor was focused, succinct and purging, on the writing session for the new effort Baroness was faced with a clean slate yet again. The end result is a long album that caters both to their metal inclinations and their pop sensibilities.
News about a new album started to appear as early as 2017, with Beazley mentioning in interviews how well the new members understood the band’s philosophy and were contributing significantly to the writing process. Earlier this year they started to include a new song, “Borderlines” in their set-list, and last month the video for “Seasons” was released, including their signature frantic riffing, blast beats and an atmospheric chorus, with a metal/doom feel. Little by little, the beauty of Gold & Grey is being revealed. A few streaming services already have now the whole album available, so if you’re a die-hard fan, chances are you’ve already listened to it.
Having prided themselves in never doing what’s expected of them, it’s safe to say that here the band continued their modus operandi of exploring new ground with every release. The new album is a lengthy one, and surely one of their most dynamic and varied to date. Opener “Front Toward Enemy” kicks off at high speed, with Beazley’s angry and depressive screams, and intentionally or not, a nod to The Police’s “Spirits in the Material World”. Follower “I’m Already Gone” is a bittersweet number with a groovy beat by Sebastian Thompson, engulfed in the jazzy tone of bassist Nick Jost. By the second audition, I already caught myself singing the chorus “I’m already gone, too late, so long”, and playing my air bass during the verses.
On “Tourniquet”, a beautiful landscape is painted at the beginning, only to be suddenly replaced by solid and forward-pushing bass-lines underneath an exquisite twin-guitar assault and precise hi-hat work. “Throw Me An Anchor” employs a well-known practice of Baroness, which is to use excessive distortion. And while this was used in moderation in previous albums, here it somewhat hurts the enjoyment of the song. At one point I wondered if I was sent the actual end result of the album or a demo tape. Too bad, because the chorus on this song is great, like only this band know how to do. Some relief to the heaviness, however, is provided on the intriguing and atmospheric number “Emmet-Radiating Light”.
As the name suggests, Gold & Grey is an album focused on duality: exquisite melodies marred by distortion, delicate intros followed by frantic riffing, uphill battles, short-lived plateaus and vertiginous descents. That effect is aptly demonstrated on “Broken Halo”, with its emotional and somewhat romantic lyrics, sung above a barrage of metal riffs. The album’s variety is also noticed on the many vignettes or interludes scattered around the track-list. From the spookiness of “Blankets of Ash” through the electronic sounds of “Assault on East Falls” or the delicateness of “Seven”, the listener is rewarded with several mood changes, which can either provide some breathing space or leave you with clenched teeth. At least one of such shorter numbers deserved further exploration and could eventually turn into a longer song, the fuzz-driven “Can Oscura”.
The brilliance of this release is further evidenced on “Cold Blooded Angels”, where Beazley shares vocal duties with Gleason singing a bucolic melody, embellished by delicate keyboards. The vertiginous tempo changes epitomize the mission statement of this band: their songs are never meant to be listened to casually or played in the background while you run errands. It takes time, focus and effort to truly appreciate their art. “Pale Sun” closes the proceedings with yet another curve-ball and vocals that resemble those of a religious hymn, with a hypnotic and mesmerizing flow.
Gold & Grey is an appropriate end for the band’s color-named string of albums, and a triumphant return. The decision to present this as a single album (as opposed to one disc devoted to each color, as was done on Yellow & Green) proved to be the right thing to do, because the songs here seem to come from the same ilk. While amazingly varied and evoking different kinds of emotions, there’s a sense of unity to these tracks, which might as well be a result of the common sense of purpose the band has garnered through the years with this lineup. It’s Baroness sounding like they never did before, and yet maintaining their identity from the first note to the last.
Label: Abraham Hymns
Release Date: June 14th, 2019
Genre: Sludge / Alternative / Progressive Metal
- John Dyer Baizley / lead vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion, piano, artwork
- Gina Gleason / lead guitar, backing vocals
- Nick Jost / bass, synthesizer, keyboards
- Sebastian Thomson / drums
“Gold & Grey” Track-Listing:
1. Front Toward Enemy
2. I’m Already Gone
6. Anchor’s Lament
7. Throw Me an Anchor
8. I’d Do Anything
9. Blankets of Ash
10. Emmett-Radiating Light
11. Cold Blooded Angels
12. Crooked Mile
13. Broken Halo
14. Can Oscura
16. Assault on East Falls
17. Pale Sun
Easily their most dynamic, varied and ambitious release so far, “Gold & Grey” sees Baroness playing with light and shade, melody and distortion whilst maintaining the core of their sound. This album has the potential to bring the band into the mainstream, but will certainly preserve their edge and their penchant for annoyingly beautiful songs. It’s an appropriate ending to their color-themed albums which even with 17 tracks, does not overstays is welcome