Revisiting Baroness’s Blue
With Gold and Grey’s release, Cvlt Nation looks back over Baroness’s long career to piece together how they got to this stage, tracing their sound and art evolution. Here, we hark back to their second record, Blue.
Having nailed a longer, well-executed version of their throaty hardcore/ flowery guitar odyssey that they coined in their initial EPs, Baroness took a different approach on Blue. Shaving off the harsher edges, the record still strikes hard, but when it does so it’s less the hammer-blow of Red and more of a soft pummelling. Generally, the distinction between high-powered ferocity and gentle guitar work is blurred and they focussed more on stronger melodies and more space for the guitars to sing in tandem.
Bullhead’s Psalm opens stronger and more direct than previously, cleaner and crisper than they’ve ever sounded. It builds as a swell, before kicking into the riffy The Sweetest Curse. This is the first indication of the direction that Baroness are leaning in; here the guitars take centre stage, focussing on intricate melodies and busy work, more so than the flowery bloom of Red. Fans of their hardcore leanings will note that the bellowing returns, and those who leant towards the song-ier moments will enjoy the sprightly melodies and bright guitar moments, including an extended solo, one of the most joyous moments to date. Afterwards the more complex Jake Leg adds a little progressive thunder to the proceedings, like a more to-the-point Isak.
Steel that Sleeps the Eye is closer to some of the stuff on Red, a little quieter and calmer, less dramatic. Swollen and Halo brings things back around, more a slow-burn banger, an intense six minutes of heavy riffing. Ogeechee Hymnal is a lower-key affair, a mesh of patented Weird Baroness Noises that builds up to another Certified Baroness Banger.
A Horse Called Golgotha is a well-placed straightforward song, a bolstering anthem to build the energy as we reach the second half of the record. Baroness do a lot when they’re given more space to expand and explore new ideas, so it’s good to see them still able to take a step back and focus their ideas into a succinct single cut, one of the more memorable moments from the record and their career to date. O’er Hell and Hide is a more noodly guitar track, featuring some driving, sledgehammer basslines. It’s a good showing for thunderous tunes thus far, bolstered by War, Wisdom and Rhyme, which is a touch more frenzied than their previous cuts on the record. The mix of full-blooded power, frenzied progressive energy and crystal-clear guitarwork is clear by this point on the album, and the record hits at high here.
Blackpowder Orchard is another quiet track, bringing the energy down from three hard-hitters. The Gnashing, a light/ dark offering, is an excellent wind-down song, showcasing more of Baroness chilling out before bringing it back up, showing John Baizely at peak energy. Bullhead’s lament rounds things off, allowing Baroness the space to explore a strange sonic palette through their multiple guitar effects pedals. At their heart, Baroness were always huge gear nerds, and this tendency shines through in moments like this.
The artwork leans further from the birds that were prominent previously. Instead, the featured fauna are aquatic, capped off by a kingly catfish. Shades of cyan and turquoise evoke the ocean, and the brighter palette brings out the best of the chaos; like most of the covers the arrangement is extremely busy. Here the lighter colours make everything a little more immediately dramatic.
Here, the progressive Baroness are focussed and streamlined, a style that would be taken to extremes later when they came out with Yellow and Green, moving more towards a mainstream sound. What’s clear here is that they do well with more space, and the album form has always suited them well; this is the most varied album to date, and for the heavier stuff is the best-balanced. It’s also the closest they’ve really come to the discipline of progressive metal, rather than letting their whims engulf them.