It’s apparent that Baroness probably don’t care what their audience thinks.
They’re making music they want to make, always have done, probably always will do, and this self-gratifying approach has lead them into a greater sonic palette than their early crust flecked sludge beginnings would ever have suggested possible.
It’s a healthy attitude I think – but not just because of the musical ramifications: it will probably serve to insulate them in the coming months from what I think will be a very negative response from much of their older fanbase with this record.
I say this because quite simply, as one of those older fans myself, I will be upfront in stating that I really do not like much of this record and if I’d had to write this review after my first two listens I’d have absolutely fucking trashed it.
But having given it a few days and several listens, my personal dislike that doesn’t stop me from understanding that it’s a well crafted collection of songs overall.
Let’s put it this way – I feel the same listening to this now as I did when I heard Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ for the first time: that sure, they were just doing what they felt like doing, but it was the end of my interest in that band as it just felt they’d moved into a different arena. Literally.
Because really what’s going on here in the simplest terms is that Baroness have made an arena rock album that has a feel drawn more from the last 30-40 years of American FM Rock from Fleetwood Mac or the Allman Brothers up to the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age than it does their peers in Kylesa or Mastodon.
Of course it doesn’t sound like those bands…well, okay, it kinda does in places…but honestly, judging from this album Baroness’ metal days are clearly a thing of the past. Even the (frankly nauseating) Relapse press blurb mentions the phrase “stadium rock” and “hard rock” rather than dropping the M bomb.
Consequently, it’s time to ignore everything the band have done up to this point and try and review this on its’ own merits. It’s really the only way I can think of to give this a fair shake, and to be honest enough of the features of their sound that I liked previously have been toned down or removed that it feels like a different band anyhow. Baroness Lite, if you will, shorn of the rythmic barrage and most of the explosive guitar work of old.
‘Take My Bones’ away and ‘Eula’ will probably be familiar to many of you already, having found their way online in the run up to release – these two tracks sit well on the “Yellow” part of the album, but
should not be seen as representative of it as a whole. They are two extremes, the former a more driving moment and the latter a more blatant attempt at lighters-in-the-air balladry, but much of the
remainder falls into a middle ground between the two filed under “radio friendly alternative rock”
While the previous two albums have garnered comparisons to Mastodon, the band that most spring to mind as a reference point for some of the material on here is, all of things, Kings of Leon – it may seem far fetched or that I’m being facetious but that’s genuinely the band that comes to mind most listening to the first half of the album.
There’s that same feeling of classic 70s radio rock songwriting through a more modern approach. “March to the Sea”, “Psalms Alive” and “Board Up The House” genuinely could pass for a less bombastic,sass-free version of the indie rock titans. Though weirdly, that band seem to have a better grasp on the concept of “rocking out” than Baroness currently do.
The real flaws with this album? It’s too long. The production, while they were going for a more organic feel, is weirdly flat. But the band themselves sound completely stripped of any power or passion a
lot of the time.
Listen to “Cocainium”, on of the more interesting songs on here as an example: when they move from the mellow, psychedelic verse into a more rocking chorus riff, it wants to sound like Thin Lizzy, but just sound thin. It’s a hard pill to swallow from a band whose intricate, headbanging riffage was so prominent in the past. I can handle them not being heavy any more, but I can’t accept
how pedestrian they sound in places here.
Baroness it has to be said can write a fine straight forward radio rock song when they want – the aforementioned “March to the Sea” or “Little Things” are proof of that – but there’s points where the
saccharine in their new sound makes me nauseous.
Also let’s be blunt. there’s a an awful lot of shit on here as well: tracks like “Back Where I Belong”, “Foolsong” and “Mtns.” are utterly disposable. You can use all the guitar effects you want lads, but you can’t use a pedalboard to polish a turd. The “Green” section of the album was a real struggle to get through for me any time I listened to it.
On the plus side, the atmospherics of the quieter “Twinkler” providea highlight. And “Psalms Alive” is really one of the few moments where they successfully get the balance right, and proves that they can
write melodic pop/rock that’s still satisfies those whose interests are the heavier style of old.
The sheer catchiness of some of the hooks and choruses really is a strength that needs a mention considering that the vocals in much of the earlier material was always their weak point – Baizley has switched entirely to a clean vocals style rather than the bellows of old and he’s clearly more comfortable and confident here because of that.
In summation, putting aside any issue about how they’ve progressed or what kind of market this album is clearly marketed at (hint: MTV2), I can see that this band are clearly capable of something interesting in a more mainstream vein, and good luck to them as they proceed to do so.
After several listens, once the shock of the new wears off and you get used to the more restrained sounds on this new album, it becomes impossible to deny that there are some very good songs on here.
But I feel like this album just doesn’t work overall because it’s too pedestrian and too long. Just over half these songs make fine background music, or fall into the “I wouldn’t turn it off if it came
on the radio” category. The other half are just plain tedious. Perhaps six months from now they’ll have grown on me, but I doubt it.
It’s by no means the car crash some will tell you it is then. But the end of the journey for me? Certainly.
2.5 / 5 – Jamie Grimes ::: 01/07/12