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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Baroness: First & Second


1) Tower Falls; 2) Coeur; 3) Rise; 4) Red Sky; 5) Son Of Sun; 6) Vision.

First of all, I have no clue as to why these guys call themselves «Baroness» — it cannot be excluded that one or more of them have those subconscious hots for Margaret Thatcher, but it sure as heck wouldn't have much to do with the music, which blends the conservative framework of heavy metal with the liberal framework of math-rock and is consequently of a neutral nature. There does not seem to be any heavy excess of barons or baronesses in Savannah, Georgia, either, so, ultimately, the name may have simply been chosen in order to distance themselves from their surroundings — the surroundings of yet another band from the Deep South that would do every­thing in its power to avoid reminding us of their local roots.

Actually, in this way they only followed the example of their direct predecessor, Mastodon (from Atlanta, Georgia), whose slightly inferior copy version they are sometimes stated to be. Which is not entirely true: although Baroness naturally owe a heavy debt to Mastodon, they have plenty of ideas of their own, or, at the very least, they combine the ideas plundered from Mastodon with ideas plundered from other artists (which sounds like a slur, but in reality is merely a way of de­scribing the working manners of about 90% of the people reviewed here).

John Baizley's growling vocals excluded, the music of Baroness really falls more in the «math-rock» than stereotypical heavy metal category. Although each of the band's first two EPs, re­leased in 2004 and 2005 and later packed together on a one-CD edition from 2008, formally con­sists of three tracks, all three are seamlessly joined together and seem to represent three different movements of a single «electric guitar symphony» rather than separate entities. And the sym­phonies in question place more emphasis on complexity, density, and unpredictability of their sound than on «heaviness» as such: no matter how distorted the guitar tones get, or how closely Baizley's vocals approach the mating calls of a stone troll, neither First nor (even less) Second have a truly «metallic» feel to them. Altogether, in order to appreciate this music, one has to appeal to that particular brain department which is responsible for your chess skills, rather than the one that urges you to play the Necromancer campaign in Heroes of Might & Magic.

The lyrics, mostly coming in short, spasmodic, frequently unfinished phrases, do have a slightly medieval / fantasy pull rather than, for instance, the «science rock» flair of BATS: the very title of the first track, ʽTower Fallsʼ, and its constant references to burning, pressing soil into dust, and «nothing will ever return», shows the expectable taste for dramatic flashiness. But the music it­self shows nothing of the kind: both Baizley and the second guitarist, Tim Loose, generally avoid screechy, mock-cathartic tones, setting their axes to sludgy «grumble-and-growl» moods, some­times with an acid tone overhaul. This does not work well for immediate memorability, but it also helps them avoid many of the usual metal clichés — and convert those listeners who are initially predisposed to appreciating «intelligent» rather than «heartfelt» heaviness.

The downside is that, for all of this «intelligence», pretty much every song on here is played with the exact same intellectual — and emotional — message. The different «movements» shuffle fast and slow tempos without any clear guiding principles, but fast or slow, all the sections have a similar feel of what I could describe as «light-gray melancholia», inherited by these guys not so much from their metal ancestors as from their indie-rock influences. Maybe the worst thing about these EPs is that this kind of music is often salvageable by its inlaid sense of musical humor, yet Baroness show no sense of humor whatsoever. The mission — to save metal-based music from its corny conventions and make it more academically respectable, so to speak — is indeed noble (although it is always a puzzle to me why so many of these noble efforts are ultimately still spoi­led by the obstinate reliance on growling vocals), but the resulting music, technical respect apart, is still way too samey and, in the end, too boring to generate genuine excitement. And the fact that First and Second, from the very outset, present a well-formed, confident, professional sound means very little — these days, most bands in these genres start out with a well-formed, confident, professional sound, or else they do not start out in the first place.

Check "First & Second" (CD) on Amazon

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