Re-invigoration is a theme that is often utilized when making, speaking or consuming music. Something about the creative energies released by music demands it. The duality is clear; music both regenerates us but also requires attention, energy and, most of all, self-searching and growth. Understanding this can grant us great insight into the rise and fall of many bands: it’s not enough to make great music, it’s also necessary to keep reinventing and exploring it. Thus, we come to Baroness. Being a veteran band, and with consideration of events other than the music, the biggest question that surrounded Purple was can they pull it off? Can a band so known and recognized for its distinct sound bring something new to the table?
Before we turn to the music itself, we must pause for a moment and consider the context which suffuses this release. Baroness have been around for some time and in that time, have managed to garner accolades from pretty much everywhere. Not only that, but they’ve garnered it for multiple things: whether it’s the straight up, stoner aggression of Red to the more refined yet still complex Blue, all the way through the divisive and intricate Yellow/Green, Baroness have shown themselves capable of traversing broad musical grounds. That puts pressure on them, pressure which modifies and augments this release and its meaning, whether we’d like it to or not. In addition, no review of this album would be complete without taking into account “real world” events: the band experienced a traumatic bus crash in 2012, leading to the departure of two members in 2013. Those that have remained, including the bleeding heart of the band, John Baizley, have admitted to have being transformed, born a new in the tragedy.
With these questions looming over us, we must turn our eyes to the subject matter itself and see whether, in the wake of events and their long career, Baroness can still tap the hidden emotional springs that have always seemed to motivate and infuse their work. Beyond composition, beyond execution, there always lay some aggressive yet compassionate core to Baroness. Is that core, that lodestone of artistic effort, still there? More accurately, does it still communicate these sensations to us in meaningful, convincing way? The answer is, sadly, more complicated than the ringing affirmative we might have wanted to deliver to you.
When the album first spins, our hopes are high. Simply put, it starts with four absolutely fantastic tracks, with opener “Morningstar” taking pride and place. It exhibits a blend of the heavier connotations of Baroness, namely that chunky, riffy vibe of Red and combines it with the more anthem-like qualities the band have chaperoned in the past few releases. This creates a convincing and infectious beginning for the album, setting a rough tone and coarse timbre for the release. “Shock Me”, it’s successor, takes those tropes and inverts them to a large extent; it opens with almost retrowave synths, invoking 80’s desolate plains and a hero’s journeys. While it quickly develops a sharp edge of its own, its chorus is much “softer”. This creates a pleasant contrast between the opening tracks and, as we mentioned, sets our bar high.
“Try to Disappear” and “Kerosene” continue these elements, with the latter being an absolute energy bomb of a track. They’re both more somber and atmospheric but dynamic and fierce at the same time. “Kerosene” in particular reminds us of days gone by, when Baroness were still excavating their sound from out of the metal/rock n’ roll milieu, surrounded but refusing to surrender to the Mastodon comparisons. Here as well, the chorus takes the track and elevates it to much more than the stoner rock labels that we might otherwise place on the track. However, from here on out things start to go awry. After the high tension of “Kerosene” comes “Fugue”, a track that takes a bit too much after its name. Slower, more relaxed tracks are of course perfectly familiar in these settings but when they say nothing much, like this brief interlude, they don’t make any sense. The musical ideas and phrases contained here aren’t shared with any of the other tracks we’ve just heard and, therefore, lack context and meaning.
“Chlorine & Wine” does its best to latch onto the ending vibe of “Fugue” but ultimately suffers from the same issues that the previous track had. Not only that, it then attempts to recapture some of the heaviness and tenacity that the opening tracks utilized and falls flat on its face: the riffs aren’t that interesting, every twist and turn is predictable and overstated. If its interlude was simply dull, its middle passages and intro are often contrite and plain boring. Which is strange because if the track had truly reached back into the beginning of the album, it would have found plenty there to fuel it. Perhaps in the context of what it was trying to achieve that wasn’t a possibility but it’s a damn shame, because as a single it was great. In the larger framework of the album, it loses much of its punch.
The last three tracks on the album, if one discounts the quite pointless outro track “Crossroads of Infinity”, are pretty much more of the same. They channel some of the energy and vivacity that the opening tracks had but the magic is gone. The riffs sound stale, their progression clear cut and worn out from overuse. In general, something seems missing from the closing blows of Purple, some sort of lackluster mood that pervades everything. The vibe and feel they were going for, something more measured and distraught, is clear but the execution fails to convince us of its worth or impact. Baroness are all about explosive energy and un-containable emotions. The band have shown that they are more than capable of that but have failed to bring it to bear for the entire run-time of the album. The result is a lopsided effort, one which is all the more disappointing for showing us what we’re missing when it first starts.
Is it the lineup change which has left this band stalled in this way? Or has the experience of the crucible of tragedy changed their outlook on the world, life and music? It’s not for us to answer such intimate and personal questions. However, whatever the cause, something in this album feels missing. The words are there but the sentences make little sense; like the frustration of almost understood language, we feel the meaning and purpose behind the words but can’t quite grasp it. The ultimate results is that Purple feels missed, almost there and grand but ultimately not quite as good as their previous albums. Trying to narrow that down to a lack of aggressiveness or of verve would be a mistake, although those certainly play their part. It’s more of a sum of parts at the end of the day and, when all the sections are tallied, Purple feels a little less there, a little less with us, somehow distant and aloof.
Baroness – Purple gets…