The earliest years of a band can easily be some of the most interesting in retrospect. They say you have your whole life to write your first album and only a few years, at best, to top it with it the second — this leads to some of the most revealing, raw and albeit less focused music you’ll hear in their entire career. With this in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the earliest work from bands that have carved out their own niche and tried to take a look at how these early sounds connect with their more recent work.
Baroness are somewhat standalone these days. Yellow & Green saw the band take their usually more vicious approach to proggy sludge metal and make it more introspective and subdued with huge infectious choruses and more standard song structures being a feature throughout both discs. And while they have their ties to the Savannah sludge scene, one listen to ‘March To The Sea‘ or ‘Sea Lungs‘ will convince you that no one does it quite like they do.
However, the Baroness of old is a much different beast. First and Second were released in 2004 and 2005 respectively and represent the sound of a band much more comfortable with the more metallic elements of their sound. ‘Tower Falls‘ became an early fan favourite and opens First in a flurry of discordant feedback before succumbing to a riff so sludgy and thick that it would make Eyehategod nod in affirmation. From there, the track winds through over 7 minutes of meandering and wandering passages that invoke early Mastodon and the odd occasion that Neurosis weren’t afraid to pull out something a little more swaggering and rocking. At the very front of the mix sits the commanding gruff roar of John Dyer Baizley, with a tone that would rival even the great Aaron Turner’s in sheer force.
It’s interesting to note that First was actually released just before the game-changing Leviathan from those aforementioned sludge-kings Mastodon, only separated by a few weeks. While the band had probably already soaked up Remission is all it’s glory, it’s interesting to see such a huge amount of synchronicity when listening to the winding, tech-infused and surging riffs of ‘Rise‘ and comparing it to pieces such as ‘Megalodon‘ and ‘Island‘.
Second strikes itself as slightly different to it’s predecessor and would mirror the same transition the band famously underwent on their first two full length records — it became far more concerned with nurturing great songs than showing off musical prowess. While something like ‘Son Of Sun‘ still maintains those NeurIsis-influenced passages, the way it builds from a slow and introspective quiet beginning to a noisy stomp before slumping into a droning doom shows the mark of a band finding their feet and understanding more and more how much they stretch their sound.
(I have no idea why it shows the Blue Record artwork instead)
With these two EPs, the groundwork was laid down and gave the band a blueprint for their sound for years to come — southern fried sludgy riffs set against a back drop of music that is equal parts evocative and impressive. And while they would later shed some of those heavier influences in Isis, Kylesa and the like, that core remained the same and brought us some of the best albums of the last decade.