BARONESS – Stone (Album Review)

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Grammy-award nominated Baroness are back with a new album, “Stone”. Their sixth record overall and third released via Abraxan Hymns, “Stone”finds the Philadelphia-based quartet of John Baizley (guitars/vocals/illustration), Gina Gleason (guitars), Nick Jost (bass), and Sebastian Thomson (drums) using a more direct approach than its critically-acclaimed predecessor “Gold & Grey” (2019). This is still very much Baroness – just streamlined for efficiency and rethought, maybe in a search for stability in a world plagued by COVID-19, when the album was written.

The fact that the writing, production, and engineering are credited to the whole band is a testament to the sense of unity that Baroness has achieved. Having gone through several iterations, there is a palpable perception that the lineup is stable and cohesive like never before in the history of the group. This is confirmed by Gina, the most recent member to join: “When I joined in 2017, I was just trying to find my place,” Gleason says. “This time, I felt like I could express a little more. I had a history with everybody in the band, so I was less scared of imposing. I incorporated more of my guitar playing, which, in a way, was like coming full circle to what I’ve done in the past. I think we were able to strip everything away on this record. We were unified in that, I think. So, we just jumped in and did our best. That felt really good. It was a really cool, empowering, creative experience.”

Before we jump into the sonic details of this release, there are a few considerations to be made. “Gold & Grey” was intended as the last Baroness album named after colors, and the sense of departure can be felt not only in that detail. Some might argue that “Stone” is also a paint color that can be found in your nearest Home Depot, but here it surely means something else – probably the monolithic quality of the material on the record. Or maybe it symbolizes tombstones and the sense of loss that they bring. It’s also worth mentioning the album cover, designed by John Baizley, which shows three women imprisoned – one by dreadlocks that look like chains, another by snakes compressing her arms, and the third one with wires. Fire, birds, bells and frogs complete the chilling illustration, with a color scheme that seems more opaque and less vivid than the previous Baroness covers. Here, the ladies don’t look seductive, contemplative or daring – they simply avoid any possibility of eye contact with the listener.

“Stone” kicks off with a one-minute acoustic piece called “Embers”, where Baizley and Gina sing together. The lyrics here allude to the cover: “I lost my senses/ I lost my way/ I can’t remember why/ Build me a home of ember and chain/ Leave me a simple life”. This segues directly into the riff-laden “Last Word”, which is as “traditional Baroness” as can be, with a few twists: Gina’s voice once again harmonizes with Baizley’s, but seems more in the forefront now than it ever was. And the compression and saturation of “Gold & Grey” are gone, which means we can listen to Nick’s bass driving the chorus and beautifully complementing the solos throughout the song.

The origins of “Stone” go back to 2020. The band insists that it’s not a pandemic record, but the core of it was written during its darkest days. Anxiety, relief, and resolve are stitched deeply throughout. Turning stems of music into full-fledged songs might have felt insurmountable when the foursome was isolated, but Baroness toiled as the world roiled. Creativity fully flourished only when they escaped to an Airbnb in Barryville, a quaint hamlet on the New York/Pennsylvania border.

“Stone” Artwork

The rollercoaster entitled “Beneath the Rose” is already know by the fans, since it was the second single to be released. A quasi-thrash metal riff gives way to a melodic chorus, and twin-guitar harmonies on the solo. Baizley alternates a delicate delivery with harsher vocals here and there. The following track, “Choir”, begins with an extension of a riff from “Beneath the Rose”. On yet another example of the clarity of sound now benefitting the enjoyment of the album, we can now hear Sebastian’s exquisite hi-hat work on this song, which would surely make Stewart Copeland proud. One can’t help but think that “Choir” is the result of an extensive jam session. John’s vocals here range from soft to, at times, barked and the lines become increasingly more modulated and sinister, until towards the end, where his voice almost becomes devilish. The song is as theatrical as it is musical and is definitely the most unique – and strangest – tunes on the album.

After two high-octane, dizzying tracks, the softness provided by “The Dirge” gives the listener a bit of a rest. This short acoustic ballad is reminiscent of a religious chant. The vocals begin fuzzy and distant, become clean and centered in the second verse, until Gina and John’s voices are harmonized in a glorious ending. There’s not much time to breathe though, as this is followed by a return to heaviness, with the plodding riff of “Anodyne”. The guitar work here wouldn’t sound out of place in a Monster Magnet or Orange Goblin song, but there’s some melodic relief, in the shape of a beautiful yet brief twin guitar harmony.

“Shine” is yet another album highlight, and arguably the one where Baroness stays closer to their DNA. A really trippy, swirling guitar and synth begins the track before a lush acoustic picking enters the song and the two weave together blissfully, soothingly. A drum roll takes the song to a heavy and uptempo level. Delicate choral sections clash against Maiden-style guitars, while Sebastian once again shines with tasteful drum fills throughout the song. This is Baroness at its catchiest and most effective. In contrast, as soon as “Magnolia” kicks in you just know that you need to prepare for quite the ride. It delicately begins as a slow burn type of track, and morphs into a Mastodon-esque plodding riff. Clocking in at 7:49 minutes, it represents all sides of Baroness, and the most attentive listener will catch glimpses of past albums here and there.

Breakdown on “Stone” vinyl colorways

“Under The Wheel” is another song that seems to have been developed on a lengthy jam. Creepy and sinister, it grabs the listener and doesn’t let go until the end of this sludgy and trippy journey. The proceedings end with “Bloom”, an obvious callback to the first song: “Build me a home of hammers and rain; leave me a simple life; home, where we go; to bury the blood and stone.” A fitting epilogue that appropriately conveys a sense of conclusion, change, acceptance and peace at last.

After the seventeen tracks of “Gold & Grey”, it’s refreshing to see Baroness return to a more concise and direct approach on “Stone”. Obsessed with not repeating themselves, the band wrote an album that is as close to their sound as possible, while coming to terms with tragedy, uncertainty, loss and doubt. Somehow they made sense of it all in the difficult period humanity was going through, and exorcized their demons with a back to basics approach. While this album will not change the perception of naysayers, it will definitely please the most demanding fan out there.  

Released By: Abraxan Hymns
Release Date: September 15th, 2023
Genre: Stoner / Sludge / Progressive Rock

Band Members:

  • John Baizley / Guitars, vocals, illustration
  • Gina Gleason / Guitars, vocals
  • Nick Jost / Bass
  • Sebastian Thomson / Drums

“Stone” track listing:

  1. Embers
 2. Last Word
 3. Beneath The Rose
 4. Choir
 5. The Dirge
 6. Anodyne
 7. Shine
 8. Magnolia
 9. Under The Wheel
10. Bloom

8.8 Excellent

“Stone” sees Baroness looking inward and examining different strains of their DNA. Innovative, forward-thinking but also conscious of what they are, the four-piece wrote one of their most direct albums to date, with room for experimentation here and there. Cohesive, consistent and confident, the album takes the listener on a journey which is in equal parts scary and fulfilling. Not for the faint of heart!

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8

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