BARONESS: YELLOW & GREEN (2012)
1) Yellow Theme; 2) Take My Bones Away; 3) March To The Sea; 4) Little Things; 5) Twinkler; 6) Cocainium; 7) Back Where I Belong; 8) Sea Lungs; 9) Eula; 10) Green Theme; 11) Board Up The House; 12) Foolsong; 13) Collapse; 14) Psalms Alive; 15) Stretchmarker; 16) The Line Between; 17) If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry.
First reaction: No, no, no! Change is good, but not all change is good. This is not genuine heavy metal at all, this is not classic hard rock, this is some kind of gloomy «alt-rock» thing. Limp riffs, sludgy tones, gothic harmonies, medieval tonalities, metronomic beats, electronics... where's the crunch, goddammit? Are we actually supposed to sit back and «think» these songs over? Who do they think they are — Smashing Pumpkins? Heavens be cursed, here is yet another band that started out with a promise and turned to the usual dull crap in just a few years' time.
A few more listens into this stuff, though (not an easy challenge, as Yellow & Green is essentially a double album, with its two «differently colored» parts eventually clocking in at around seventy minutes), and I was already getting into these grooves and — man, what was I thinking? This is really interesting stuff, going way beyond their original formula and... well, could actually be their best album so far. By the fourth time, I was all but convinced.
Somehow, it seems that after a few albums of songs that had plenty of atmosphere, but tended to plod and meander, Baroness have managed to grow into very serious «melodicists». For one thing, they have grasped the meaning of the «less is more» concept — listen to ʽGreen Themeʼ, at the heart of which lies just a handful of tenderly arpeggiated chords, repeating themselves over and over before spilling out in a frenzied Mike Oldfield-style distorted folk guitar solo, then reverting back to quiet mode before spilling out again in a shrill psychedelic Floydian solo. The effect is pretty majestic — intelligent, catchy, and, at times, almost «beautiful», which is certainly a new high for Baroness, never yet caught so far in one of those «spiritual» moods.
However, their heavy riffs are also growing stronger — at the expense of «metal» elements, perhaps, as ʽTake My Bones Awayʼ, opening the first part of the album, seems more of a personal, confessional, soul-aching statement than a generalized «battle cry», the likes of which populated most of Blue Record. The main riff, processed through some wicked distortion filter, bellows with its own pain this time around — as do Baizley's vocals, which might as well come from a mortally wounded battle elephant, and then the frenetic guitar solo completes the picture.
This song and most of the others have nothing particularly experimental about them. This is just heavy (sometimes not so heavy) music with a solid degree of introspection and soul-searching. The spirit of Thin Lizzy is in here somewhere, as well as Rush, Metallica, U2, even The Cure or Radiohead, perhaps, on the not-so-heavy, but skillfully overdubbed, tracks. But nothing sounds like a tribute or a mindless exercise in plagiarism — Baroness are experienced enough to create their own moods and, more importantly, their own melodies.
The difference between the Yellow and the Green parts is not crucial. On the whole, the former remains closer to a «metal» sound and the latter moves more firmly in the direction of melancholic art-pop, but the distinctions are blurred enough to not let you notice that unless you pay attention to the album and song titles. Both halves, actually, have their share of thoroughly non-metallic songs — ʽCocainiumʼ, in the first section, is as much distinguished by its psychedelic bassline / jangly rhythm dialog as ʽPsalms Aliveʼ, in the second section, is distinguished by its «bubbly bass / gentle arpeggios» combo — and they all sound surprisingly good.
Altogether, the point of both halves is the same: Baroness have slipped into a mood of «quiet lament», developing a sensitive side — those who'd like them move back into math-rock territory will probably be disappointed, and I know I would have been, too, if all this stuff really weren't so intelligently designed. Not to mention that this is the first album where I did not have any regrets for Baizley as their lead singer: having purged all «growling» from his voice, he suddenly becomes much more efficient when replacing it with a tinge of desperation. And guess what, when he is not screaming at the top of his lungs, his voice is actually quite nice (ʽCocainiumʼ, ʽFoolsongʼ, etc.) — maybe he should try and experiment more in this department. Who knows, give him a few more years and maybe he'll turn into the next Thom Yorke.
I suppose the word «masterpiece» would be pushing it: the songs are not that memorable or breathtaking — and if Baroness really intend to invade the territory of Floyd, Cure, and Radiohead, they have a long road ahead of them before they master all the production intricacies, necessary to catch our souls in their web. But as a first, tentative raid in that territory, it surpasses any possible predictions and expectations, showing both a strong will to evolve and solid means to carry that will out. Just do not expect for either Yellow or Green to hit you all that hard upon first listen, particularly if you are a seasoned listener — the moodiness, the stylishness, the individual hooks of these songs require a little fermentation, so it seems to me. Thumbs up.
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