Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baroness - Blue Record

Color Me Blue
The Georgian sludge metal scene has gained some prominence within extreme metal. Built up from the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) influences of Eyehategod, England's doomy Black Sabbath and even New York's Swans, the Georgian scene has turned into a characteristic entity while still praising the evil yet Southern rock grooves. Throughout the second half of the decade, there were lauded releases from bands like Atlanta's Withered (Foile Circulare, 2008), Savannah's Kylesa (Static Tensions, 2009), and most notably Atlanta's Mastodon (Crack the Skye, 2009). It's though not all perfect in the world of downtuned drugged bastard music. Some including me thought Mastodon's over-ambition for an almost pure progressive sound has caused them to stray away from their roots too obviously (which I felt made the record good yet very underwhelming). Is it because of their rise to major labels (Relapse Records to Reprise Records) to appeal to less metal nurtured audiences or just want to separate from being pidgeonholed in a scene? Who knows?

One band who recently had some press in magazines such as Spin and most commonly being the cover story on US extreme metal mag Decibel (November 2009) is Savannah's Baroness. Rising to prominence with their First (2004) and Second (2005) EPs and as well as a split album with Unpersons (2007) and being praised with the debut LP Red Album (2007). Their mix of progressive rock and sludge metal can make a first time listener question Mastodon clone but by multiple listens of their previous work and their latest LP Blue Record, Baroness makes excellent strides in creating what they are.

Jake Leg
With a gaze of the beautiful cover art by guitarist/vocalist John Dyer Baizley, you can expect a great and wondrous journey. Starting from the beginning of "Bullhead's Psalm" to the end of "Bullhead's Lament," they deliver their A game to the best of their ability with every song. For fans of the group, Blue can be considered simply a very well refined Red Album; although not a reiteration of their 2007 debut. The most obvious difference from the previous work is how Baroness keeps momentum on making hook after hook after hook throughout the 45 minutes without droning out on being boring. They provide a sound that can be appreciated to a larger audience but they do it so well and effectively that the "sold out" issue is nonexistent.

Guitarist/vocalist Pete Adams replaced former guitarist Brian Bickle a couple of months back and I questioned if Baroness can still do it without it's former lead guitarist. By listen of Blue Album, I had my question answered with a yes. Pete contributes so much harmony vocals especially in "The Sweetest Curse" and the folk acoustic "Steel That Sleeps The Eye" where it's better to have both John and Pete sing/shout at the same time instead of just having one doing the responsibilities. Besides his voice, he can make very good clashes with John on twin leads with very noticeable support by bassist Summer Welch and drummer of Brian Bickle, Allen. When the album is best as is when all the elements are crunched up into one five or so minute song. The spectacular results are well established in the "The Birthing"-esque "Jake Leg" and the mid-paced galloping rhythms of "A Horse Name Golgotha."

A Horse Called Golgotha
Even with an outro, the penultimate song (The Gnashing) truly ends the album with great build up to the climax with elegant melodies, rhythm shifts, and well thought out patterns. Everything felt engaging and well made and nothing felt like filler. Is it best metal album ever? Probably not but I can say Baroness' Blue Record is one of the best metal (if not general) records of 2009.


Blue Record out now on Relapse Records!

Official Baroness MySpace
(features Blue Record stream)
Official John Baizley MySpace

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