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Album Review: Baroness - 'Purple'

7 December 2015 | 10:27 am | Owen Morawitz
Originally Appeared In

Another brilliant dash of colour for the broader spectrum of heavy music.

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Considering what Baroness have been through in the last three years, it’s a wonder that this reviewer even has a record like ‘Purple’ to talk about. Shortly after the release of their much-lauded double album ‘Yellow & Green’ in 2012, the group suffered a horrific bus accident near an aqueduct in Bath, England, which severely injured members of the band and crew, forcing them to cancel touring commitments and recuperate for many months. Frontman and artistic overlord John Baizley had the misfortune of sustaining a broken arm and leg, which hampered his ability to play guitar and became a serious hurdle for future song writing.

Yet in the wake of this disaster, Baroness seemed to return to the fold with renewed vigour. In 2013, bassist Matt Miggioni and drummer Allen Bickle left the group, to be replaced by current members Nick Jost and Sebastian Thomson (bass/keyboards and drums respectively), and the band played acoustic sets, completed headline tours in the U.S. and returned to Europe. Which brings us to 2015 and the release of ‘Purple’, their fourth studio album, recorded in Cassadaga, New York with Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) at Tarbox Road Studios, and released through their own newly-formed independent label, Abraxan Hymns. Sonically, ‘Purple’ sits at the fulcrum between the full-throttle, low-end rockers of ‘Yellow’, and the moody, 90’s post-rock vibe of ‘Green’. The record features loud, commanding rock songs, with the kind of immediate and purposeful song writing that Baroness has come to be known for in their decade long career. Having an overarching theme of perseverance in the defiance of struggle, Baizley’s lyrics retain their dark and obscure imagery, tastefully juxtaposed against an upbeat and resonant musical arrangement.

With ‘Morningstar’ and ‘Shock Me’ as the first introductory tracks, ‘Purple’ makes a loud and poignant statement with driving riffs and vast dynamic crests, offset by rolling drums and Baizley’s rich clean vocals. On ‘Try To Disappear’, Baizley trades talk of “burying bones” inside his garden, with electronic squelches and poppy hi-hat beats, before a massive wall of guitar smashes through to bring the track to a rousing and anthemic mid-section. ‘Kerosene’ is ‘Purple’s answer to ‘Take My Bones Away’, and comes off as the stadium rock cousin of Mastodon’s ‘Divinations’. Each track builds off its precursor, with layers of keyboard effects and electrifying solo guitar leads, lifting the record’s softer sections into the stratosphere, with huge choruses, delicate rhythms and beautiful instrumental flourishes.

Although Baroness have never truly developed a central ‘concept’ past the colour theme in their record titles, ‘Purple’ does share some structural similarities with previous efforts. Where ‘Yellow & Green’ were nine tracks in length, and started with ‘Theme’ tracks designed to provide instrumental preludes to the moods cultivated within the individual records, ‘Purple’ is separated into subtle, four track A & B sides. ‘Fugue’ serves as a dreamy musical interlude prior to the second half of the record, which starts with lead single ‘Chlorine & Wine’, a heartfelt and empathic track that touches on notions of pills, pain, doctors and medication – elements which were sure to be prominent aspects of the band’s recovery phase. Tracks like ‘The Iron Bell’ and ‘Desperation Burns’ bring some of Baroness’ trademark heaviness back into the fold, but in a way that exchanges broad volume and aggression for razor-sharp clarity and brute force musicality. ‘If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)’ isn't quite the final curtain call that ‘Eula’ provided, but it does reach a subdued, fitting and lush climax before ‘Crossroads of Infinity’, an achingly short closer with a burst of psychedelic effects and distorted vocals.

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Simply put, ‘Purple’ is an impressive listen. Baroness are fortunate enough to have found the silver linings that are born from tragedy and they've nurtured them into a triumphant return to making world-class heavy music. It’s clear that their recent independence has freed the band of any remaining creative restrictions and allowed them to write the most direct and captivating record of their career, without compromising on the edge and vitality that has made their back catalogue so engaging. ‘Purple’ is the supreme follow up to the incredibly high bar raised by ‘Yellow & Green’ and is sure to become a fixture in many ‘Best Of’ lists for 2015 (this reviewer’s included).

1. Morningstar

2. Shock Me

3. Try To Disappear

4. Kerosene

5. Fugue

6. Chlorine & Wine

7. The Iron Bell

8. Desperation Burns

9. If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)

10. Crossroads of Infinity