Art by Sam Haney
Story By Daniel Anderson
As stated in the previously published review, progressive metal has been taking over independent labels recently due to the intricate and pristinely-made sound that bands of the genre typically produce. Bands such as Meshuggah and Periphery set a bar for the genre, known as djent, that many bands have since tried to copycat.
But as is for many genres, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Take Baroness for instance.
While still labeled as a progressive metal and rock act, this Savannah, Georgia based band has taken an opposite approach to the genre than most current prog acts. Instead of attempting to make their sound as clean and precise as possible, Baroness (as well as other contemporaries like Mastodon and Torche) combine the genres of sludge metal, alternative rock, and heavy psych into their sound.
It would seem that they have reaped the benefits from this. Since 2007, every new Baroness release (all color-coded, by the way) has been celebrated by the hard rock and metal communities. Their first two outings, The Red Album and Blue Record, were highly praised for their combination of heavy and compressed production of sludge with the technicality and finesse of prog rock.
In 2012, their double-album Yellow and Green, saw the band going in a more accessible direction. Despite still being well-received, these two remain a bit divisive among fans for going on that route. One could release the single “Take My Bones Away” in the mid-to-late 90s and it would be seen as another Foo Fighters-esque radio rock tune.
With their next release in late 2015, Purple, Baroness almost had a return to form. It served as a middle ground between their first two hard-hitting releases and the accessibility of Yellow and Green. The album was a tremendous success for the band, earning great sales, the adoration of fans and critics, and even a Grammy nod for the lead single, “Shock Me.”
Because of this, it was no surprise that many, such as myself, were anticipating their newest release, Gold and Grey. And, unfortunately, opinions on the results have been split once again.
Like with Purple, it would seem Baroness is once again attempting to meld heaviness and accessibility. However, the accessibility has been slightly turned up a notch, perhaps not to the same level as Yellow and Green, but it is still a bit noticeable.
Should their approach be slightly tweaked, tracks such as “I’m Already Gone” and “I’d Do Anything” could probably released as pop rock ballads in the early 2000’s.
Not to mention, there is also the tenth track, “Emmett – Radiating Light,” which comes across a Baroness’ attempt at an acoustic singer-songwriter track (like the poor man’s Mount Eerie or Sufjan Stevens). Yet the boring, deadpan vocals, and its inconsistency compared to the rest of the tracklist could make the listener question as to why the band would include this in the album at all.
Speaking of which, one of the most irritating detractors of this record are the absurd amount of short, mostly-instrumental interludes it contains. Not only do most of them sound lazily composed, but they contribute nothing to this record in terms of pacing. If anything, these tracks all but kill the flow of the album.
Be not mistaken, this record may be laced with flaws in its tracklist, but that does not mean that Baroness went into this project without bringing some quality to the table.
Tracks such as “Tourniquet” and “Borderlines” demonstrate the fantastic songwriting, soaring vocals and tight instrumental composition that most people associate with this band. The thirteenth track, “Broken Halo,” which is a typical song by Baroness standards, is executed well enough to where it could be placed on the tracklist of Purple.
The eleventh track, “Cold-Blooded Angels,” particularly stands out among the other tracks by showcasing the band at their most dynamic. The track goes through numerous passages and transitions while still keeping up a top-notch vocal performance from frontman John Baizley.
Despite this, the most major misstep on this record prevented me from enjoying this album any further: the production.
For most, if not the complete duration, this album is absolutely plagued with a jarring amount of technical flaws. On the opening track, “Front Toward Enemy,” the guitars and the bass are mixed together in such a way that they sound as if they are falling over one another. Also, the drums get so lost in the mix that the cymbals are really the only parts that are noticeable.
Even worse, the vast majority of these tracks suffer from the same or similar issues in production. Perhaps the worst case of these drums comes about with the final track, “Pale Sun.” Not only is it unfulfilling for an album closer, but the cymbals near the end of the track border on being white noise.
On some tracks, the opposite issue is also present. With the third track, “Seasons,” the drums finally become noticable, but that comes at the cost of the guitars and bass, which are consequently buried beneath them. The latter is also drowned out significantly on “Borderlines.”
Issues with this album’s production could potentially continue for another few paragraphs, but underlying all of this is the most frustrating aspect to me:
Baroness has never been known for being the best-produced band out there. The difference here is that the muddy and compressed mixing of previous efforts was a part of their charm. Purple, for instance, has a level of production that is almost as messy as what can be heard on Gold and Grey. But unlike this new release, Purple at least had a slightly gruffer approach in overall composition, so the mix compliments the album well enough.
Sadly, this is not the case for Gold and Grey. To have decidedly grimy production is one thing, but to dial it to a higher degree for a selection of songs that simply do not fit well with it is completely unnecessary.
This album could have been good, maybe even great when accounting for its highlights. What a shame that its greatest fault is something that could have been so easily prevented.
Standout Tracks: “Tourniquet,” “Cold-Blooded Angels,” “Borderlines”
- Front Toward Enemy
- I’m Already Gone
- Anchor’s Lament
- Throw Me an Anchor
- I’d Do Anything
- Blankets of Ash
- Emmet – Radiating Light
- Cold-Blooded Angels
- Crooked Mile
- Broken Halo
- Can Oscura
- Assault on East Falls
- Pale Sun