It’s always a tricky thing when an established group puts out a new record. You don’t want to get your hopes up necessarily, but you’re just really looking forward to hearing it. Especially if that artist is one of your favorites. You don’t want to project on them but it’s really hard not to. You hear the single releases leading up to the record and it just feels like watching trailers of the next big blockbuster movie. You talk about it with friends or online, you listen to the singles over and over again, and you do anything you can to feed the beast before the record finally drops. Sometimes you give the band way too much credit. But sometimes, the hype is real.
That’s when our beloved Baroness comes in. Their last record, Purple, was released in that weird dead zone of right at the tail end of the year and a week before Christmas when very few people are paying attention. Overall, the record was pretty good with a few great selected tracks. But as a record, it left many hardcore fans wanting a bit more. At the same time, the album showed fans not only the past of the band but also a projection into the future. Where is this band going? How are they evolving? With lineup changes imminent, Baroness was projected for an upward swing.
In 2018, the band went back to the studio with new guitarist Gina Gleason to record their latest, Gold & Grey. Recent lineup changes seemed to settle and let the band just write, and write they did. If you’ve been a fan of Baroness since their inception, you’ve noticed subtle changes to their sound over time. Gold & Grey represents a huge departure for their sound. Baroness has never been a band to rigidly subscribe to genre requirements, yet Gold & Grey is still a huge change for the band that is truly forging their own sound.
The record really goes beyond the confines of metal. Again, Baroness never really seemed to care about being seen as a metal band per se, but they’ve always had those hallmarks in their songwriting, instrumentation, and aesthetic. And while they’ve always written more progressive-style sludge metal songs, the tracks on Gold & Grey go well beyond those confines. These songs are just straight progressive music, albeit on the darker and heavier metal side of that. It’s not about repping some metal cred or proving how fill-in-the-blank metal they are. It is simply about creating music that tickles the brain.
Each track on this record certainly does that. There is a flow to this record that helps all of it tie together. Tracks seamlessly move from one to the next, and individual songs really take place over a series of tracks. It almost feels like theme record with just how well everything ties together. Songwriting is pretty consistent throughout and sticks to the hybrid of progressive music and metal though not necessarily progressive metal in the way we commonly use the term. It is a wholly unique and new sound. It’s a lot of different things and nothing all at the same time. All you can say about it is that it’s Baroness.
It all really begins on “Front Toward Enemy” and its heavy fuzz. This is the kind of track you would expect from early Baroness. It’s a pretty dense sounding song, full of rich bass and heavily fuzzed out guitars. There’s an interesting new aspect as Gleason and the rest of the band add in constant vocal harmonies. As you move into “I’m Already Gone”, you should notice a pretty sudden change in tone. This is a fleshed out track of true original songwriting. I can’t say that it fits into some specific sound or style apart from letting the song write itself regardless of style.
“Seasons” is the amalgamation of these ideas. It draws from the history of the band while incorporating these new ideas of progressive music and letting songs go where they want to go. The guitars in the track aren’t just playing riffs. They are creating melodic and harmonic lines to accentuate the song. The focus is more on the drums and bass to give the song structure and direction. Rarely do you hear a metal song where the bass is providing the rhythmic melody and musical drama. Then it switches up to the guitar interlude of uncommonly twangy guitars playing intricate licks over a bridge section. It adds some tension while also keeping you on your toes, and it’s the kind of songwriting that makes this record so impressive.
What’s even left to say about this record? It’s simply a masterpiece. It is the kind of record you hope an artist makes. One that sees the band forging their own truly unique sound based on a distinct vision. It’s held together by these intangible strings that connect all the tracks. There’s a flow to the record that allows each song to flow into the next and creates an experience more than just a collection of songs. It may go down as the best record Baroness has made and truly one of the highlights of 2019.
Gold & Grey is available June 14 via Abraxan Hymns.