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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Baroness: Red Album


1) Rays On Pinion; 2) The Birthing; 3) Isak; 4) Wailing Wintery Wind; 5) Cockroach En Fleur; 6) Wanderlust; 7) Aleph; 8) Teeth Of A Cogwheel; 9) O'Appalachia; 10) Grad.

By the time the band got around to making the transition from short EPs to long, expansive musi­cal statements, Baizley and friends seem to have undergone subtle, but important stylistic chan­ges.The principle of allowing no breaks between songs is still there, but the songs themselves are a tad more diverse (including acoustic interludes, among other things), and the entire atmosphere is a little less «math-rockish», but not that much more «metallic»: the sound is still generally friendly, and it is now hearkening back to ages both long past, such as the «idealistic» heavy rock of Budgie and Rush, and recent ones, like the noise-rock of And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (but with significant noise reduction).

And I think that these subtle changes are for the best — they do not exactly help Baroness carve out a unique identity, but they make them more accessible for those listeners (like myself), who are more easily seduced by, let's say, «unoriginal accessible bands» than by «unoriginal in­ac­cessible bands». In other words, a little extra bit of melody goes a long way in proving your worth, when your previous «musical chess parties» turn out to already have been played by better players (or, at least, equally good / comparable ones).

ʽRays On Pinionʼ, the multi-part album opener, illustrates this point better than anything. The first four minutes consist of a minimalistic intro and a bluesy, guitar-weaving jam, both with a psychedelic tinge. Eventually, the band comes in full throttle with a thick hard rock sound and Baiz­ley's trademark warrior scream, then, at about five minutes into the sound, launches a clean, melo­dic double-guitar riff in the best tradition of the 1970s — carrying it on for only a few bars before reverting to a heavier tone. But all the different parts fit together and paint quite a dynamic and meaningful picture — a journey, a battle, a natural phenomenon, whichever way you might like to interpret it. It's not a masterpiece, but the riffs are creative enough, and show fairly well that Baroness are at their best when they don't strive too much for sonic wizardry.

Subsequent tracks rarely diverge from the formula, but there are enough changes in tempo, tona­lity, and riffage (the latter seems to suck up to all sorts of heavy music from the previous four decades, as long as they are formally disciplined and organized — thus, echoes of Black Sabbath are more likely to be found than, say, echoes of Hendrix) to keep us entertained for 45 minutes. I am particularly partial to ʽWailing Wintery Windʼ, which, true to its name, goes for a less brutal, but more cold and shivery atmosphere (the main melody is stylistically reminiscent of ʽShe's So Heavyʼ from Abbey Road, which is only natural, considering its own successful evocation of a «wailing wintery wind»); to ʽTeeth Of A Cogwheelʼ, with a fun dialog of «biting» guitar licks and ultra-busy percussion bursts; and to the merry martial exuberance of ʽO'Appalachiaʼ. Less so partial, though, to stuff like ʽWanderlustʼ and ʽAlephʼ, which have a bothering tendency to ske­daddle away into «soulless» math-rock territory, but maybe they just require more intensive lis­tening — in any case, they are all blood relatives, these songs.

Altogether, Red Album (this does seem to be its official title, despite the lack of any words on the sleeve; all of the artwork for Baroness albums is painted by Baizley himself, by the way) cer­tainly deserves a thumbs up — despite occasional slips into meaninglessness, and despite Baiz­ley's highly limited caveman vocal style, which many people have complained about. Maybe the best thing about it is how it manages to consistently stay in hard rock territory without ever be­coming vicious or aggressive: where heavy metal usually qualifies as «demonic» music, these guys go for a «titanic» vibe instead — big, brawny, powerful, but ultimately benevolent. And this approach could very easily lead to boredom, but somehow it doesn't.

Check "Red Album" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Red Album" (MP3) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, first time in ages you've reviewed an album I've been planning to listen to. I'll get on it soon then.