Baroness – ‘Purple’

By Glen Bushell

It seems like only yesterday that Baroness were on the brink of collapse. After the near-fatal bus accident in 2012 that could have ended the band’s career, a shadow of doubt was cast over their future. However, nothing fuels creativity as much as tragedy, and the best thing for Baroness to do was come out fighting. After a period of mental and physical rehabilitation, a change in rhythm section, and the willingness to overcome the odds that were heavily stacked against them, the Georgia natives are back in full swing on their new LP ‘Purple’.

Having always had a penchant for the grandiose, the back-catalogue of Baroness is something at which to marvel. Since their debut album, each full-length has been named after a colour to seemingly fit the mood and tone of the album, and evoking the feeling that you are actually hearing that very colour. Maybe it has nothing to do with synaesthesia at all, and is just the colour scheme in which vocalist/guitarist John Dyer Baizley chooses to paint the elaborate artwork. Either way, each Baroness record should be approached as an experience, both aural and visual, taking in every element the band has applied to it. ‘Purple’ is no different, and once again sees Baroness pushing the boundaries of their own unique sound.

There are several noticeable differences on ‘Purple’ that perhaps have not been as prevalent in their previous releases. That doesn’t mean that it sounds any less like a Baroness record. It feels like an organic progression for the band, and one that makes their return seem all the more striking. Baroness have never had what could be considered a rough sound, but ‘Purple’ has a very rich, textured, and concise production. Having worked with John Congleton in the past (whose production credits include Chelsea Wolfe and Swans) they opted to go with Dave Fridmann, the man who brought glorious albums by The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev to life.

Then there is the music itself. Coming straight out the gate with the crushing ‘Morningstar’, bearing a resemblance to some of Mastodon’s earlier work, and showing the fire in in the stomach of Baroness is far from extinguished. It’s clear there is still a heavy element of the prog-metal that compounded their previous albums. The difference this time is that the more rounded, melodic direction they were heading towards on ‘Yellow and Green’ has been pushed to the forefront. On the surface, it may seem like Baroness have shown more restraint in their playing, given that there are less psych-rock freak-outs this time around. The truth is that Baizley’s rehabilitation on his left arm (which nearly had to be amputated after the bus accident) has forced him to play as if his life depends on it. From a blistering classic rock crunch on ‘Shock Me’, through the more subdued, serene passages during ‘Chlorine and Wine’, their already accomplished playing is even more jaw-dropping.

The slick production has led to every harmony, snare hit and guitar melody being clear, and given its own breathing room. It would be easy to lose those subtle nuances when there is so much going on in the way Baroness play, but there is no worry of that happening here. Known to have a tendency to constantly write and rewrite sections of music to obtain only the best pieces, every track on ‘Purple’ feels more direct and focused. It is also worth noting the new-found conviction in Baizley’s vocal delivery. Every word during ‘Kerosene’ spills from his larynx in monolithic fashion, and his ability to hold a note until the final decaying moments of the albums closing track ‘If I Had To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)’ is nothing short of staggering.

After you have properly taken in ‘Purple’, you feel pleased to have been able to experience it; as this is an album that may never have come to light. If that fateful day in August in 2012 had taken a different path, there may not be a Baroness here today, let alone this album. They haven’t so much as laughed in the face adversity, but instead sent it packing. Baroness have come back stronger than ever with ‘Purple’, making it a truly cathartic and compelling masterpiece.

GLEN BUSHELL

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