Cooking Vinyl Australia
With their sixth album Stone to be released on September 15, and the band securing the cover of this week’s Digital magazine, I suppose now is as good a time as any to acquaint myself with Baroness.
I enjoyed listening to the singles in preparation for the interview so once more I find myself finally checking out a band of repute in the rock/metal scene for the first time in quite probably too long…
A quick look at the one-minute running time for opening track Embers leads me to assume it is just an intro passage, which is affirmed straight up by the ambient sounds of running water being serenaded by a gentle acoustic accompaniment and soothing vocals that seem to be the go to when it comes to album openers in the modern age.
Last Word comes in full of intent amid chugging guitars from Gina Gleason and impactful drumming courtesy of Sebastian Thomson that quickly erases any thoughts of tranquility.
Frontman John Baizley adds a touch of regularity to things as he eases into his duties amid a torrent of musical marksmanship that is initially at odds with the vocal delivery.
Things soon settle, however, with eclectic and sporadic timing and tempo changes that suggest Baroness have thrown the rule book out of the window on Stone.
Gleason imparts her DNA all over the track with a blistering guitar solo that doesn’t overstay its welcome before rejoining Thomson and bass player Nick Jost in a frenzied, yet tempered musical interlude that has settled into a much more welcome groove with Baizley’s calmer approach.
Throw in some keys and a touch of structure towards the end and Last Word is a great launching pad for the rest of the album.
Beneath The Rose begins on the back of a swirling guitar run that is punctuated by short, sharp bursts courtesy of Thomson before Gleason ups the ante with a maelstrom of sonic activity which coaxes the angst out of Baizley who responds in kind.
This is more of a hard rock number and sung with greater intent and purpose, falling back into more accessible territory to accommodate a catchy chorus that in turn defers back to rock city in a clever cross-pollination of styles that promises a plethora of sonic delicacies to come.
Choir is far from angelic, opening with a meaty guitar riff in tune with a solid drum pattern that reverberates into itself as Baizley continues on a similar vocal trajectory, half spoken word, half singing, but all engaging.
Baroness are masters at creating a sonic landscape from which to launch their music, layering atmospherics with a sense of uneasiness that makes each track difficult to predict. It is a nice touch, and one not easy to portray.
But Baroness nail it effortlessly.
The Dirge switches tact completely, breathing life on the back of an acoustic guitar and moderate intent.
It is a dreamy, almost Christmas carol-type number that beautifully highlights the harmonious balance with Gleason and Jost laying their soothing tones into the mix, but I can’t say I am overly disappointed when the track dissolves after 78 seconds.
Anodyne returns Baroness to the rock realm, a tantalizing guitar riff paving the way for bass and drums to join the party of three.
Baizley floats over the top and adds a dose of melancholic calmness to proceedings that soon blends into the cavalcade of controlled chaos.
These guys are all over the shop musically, and I find myself warming to the vocals more with each track. The relative disparity between the frontman and the rest of Baroness is actually a large part of their sonic appeal, rather than the conflicting forces of sorts that formed my first impressions.
Shine has a spaced-out kind of serenity about it, which is soon brought back to Earth by a measured musical score that is strangely welcome.
But just as I was starting to doubt my ability to see Shine through to the end things escalate considerably, the spaced-out ambiance replaced by a meaty slab of rock that highlights Baizley’s contribution even more. His voice has an unpredictability to it that accentuates the schizophrenic nature of the music flowing around him, allowing the other instruments to breathe life of their own without following a predetermined structure and embodiment.
Which, after seven songs, I finally appreciate and understand.
Magnolia opens to the distant sounds of birds chirping, the rhythmic tones of the ocean painting a distant picture of softness that is carried through by a pulled-back musical score led by haunting guitar work.
It is almost dreamy and hypnotic until it isn’t.
Baizley destroys the harmony as he plunges head first into the waves and rides the swells with renewed vigor that turns Magnolia completely on its head.
It isn’t a violent burst of intent, rather a sudden thunderstorm that looms over the horizon to remind us all is not as it seems.
And we are only halfway through the nearly 8 minutes of running time…
Gleason paints her own landscape of flowing guitars that hitch a ride on the back of a tempered bass line and regulated drum fill that breaks convention sporadically to ensure things remain in more of an upbeat fashion.
It is a well-crafted track that effectively outlines the shades and contrast in Baroness’ music and perhaps sums up the whole album better than any other song on Stone.
Under The Wheel eases to life as well, a cool bass run setting a scene of uneasiness and dread, which continues as Baizley soothes over the top of a measured tempo that drifts along at a steady pace.
I’m half expecting things to change pretty soon – which they do – but with far more subtlety than shown on earlier tracks. It’s a slow-burning piece of music that has an underlying sense of despair that eventually boils over into a pained expression of longing and fragility.
And I think this is a good point to elaborate on.
While Baroness experiment musically with regularity in and around their music, it is done so without throwing the gears from fifth straight into reverse. It is more done through suggestive nuances that fold into one another to create an alternate musical landscape without jumping violently from one extreme to another, in a way that suggests schizophrenic intent but also delivered with a clear mind.
Not easy to do.
Album closer Bloom comes as a bit of a surprise with a gentle acoustic intro passage that eases to life and seems comfortable to stay on course.
It’s not my cup of tea, but in saying that the harmonies are beautiful and the whimsical nature of the track strangely acts as a binding of what has come before. More a delicate drift into nothingness than a closing statement of intent, Baroness have bravely showed their hand by closing with Bloom, boldly declaring their intentions are pure, but, more importantly, their own.
And who could argue with that?