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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Baroness: Purple

BARONESS: PURPLE (2015)

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.

Apparently, less than one month after Yellow & Green came out, Baroness were caught in a horrible accident when their bus fell from a viaduct somewhere near Bath, England (touring is evil!); miraculously, everybody survived at the cost of some broken limbs and fractured vertebrae, but the whole thing still left the band shaken, debilitated for some time, and ultimately led to the departure of the entire rhythm section, making Baizley the sole remaining original member. They did return to touring at the end of 2013, but it wasn't until early 2015 that they felt themselves properly refreshed and recovered to return to the studio, with new members Nick Jost on bass and Sebastian Thomson on drums (Pete Adams remains as second guitarist).

Of course, it is nice to see a band brave the odds and overcome Fate by stubbornly clinging to its own self-designed destiny. The problem, however, is that after the diversity and experimental nature of Yellow & Green, the accident seems to have turned Baroness into testosteronic senti­mentalists — Purple is not so much about the music as it is about wailing and lamenting. "All of us tinderwood / Bound for the fire", we are told in the very first track, and references to "deep wells of despair", "desperation burns", "killing the lights", nursemaids "cutting through my rib­cage", and other unappetizing events and abstractions are to be found just about everywhere. You'd think they should be praising God for saving their flesh, but it's amost as if they'd be feeling better if that bus crash had taken them directly to God. Maybe I was right, and they are turning into Radiohead after all?

Then again, if a band that once used to revel in the still-infinite possibilities of riff-molding wants to make an album centered around gloom and depression as a central topic, that should not con­stitute a crime as such. The real downside is that, by and large, this new music of theirs just sucks. "These are some of the biggest, strongest songs that Baroness has written", states a reviewer on Pitchfork, and many others join in the fray with equally adamant reactions. What the heck? Am I alone, then, in thinking that about half of this album sounds like friggin' Nickelback — loud, brash, monotonously distorted alt-rock with the same dull, forgettable sheen throughout? And the other half... well, sounds like someone trying not to sound precisely like Nickelback, but not being very good at it?

The first song, ʽMorningstarʼ, opens proceedings with a pleasant promise — a thick, sludgy metal riff, some math-rockish guitar interplay in the bridge section, an anthemic chorus, signature changes along the way, and a desperate, but clean caveman growl from Baizley; strangely remi­niscent of Amorphis or some other heavy metal band wobbling between «melodic death metal» and «progressive metal». Fine enough, yes, but when song after song is unwrapped before your eyes featuring exactly the same style — tempo, tone, mood, vocal intonations — and when many of those songs, beginning with ʽShock Meʼ, cannot even bother to arm themselves with strong riffage, how are they even defensible?

Okay, if you thought the Nickelback comparison was too humiliating, I apologize (after all, these guys are definitely better equipped from a technical point of view, and there is no denying a certain level of complexity required from most of these songs), but still, there's absolutely nothing on Purple that you cannot already find in much better quality on an Amorphis or, for that matter, an Opeth album. I insist that it is impossible in 2016 to simply put all your trust in a bunch of de­rivative heavy riffs and one singer's «vulnerable Viking» vocal style and come out with a non-boring, much less awe-inspiring album — which is precisely what they are trying to do here. The only consolation is that at least they did not try to stretch it to 70 minutes.

Unfortunately, this safe, comfortable formula is very easy to conform to (see my Amorphis reviews for reference), which might well signify that Baroness are over for me as a potential point of attraction. I am amazed at waves of reviewers who have awarded the usurped imperial clothes of Purple with fairly high ratings — all I can suggest is that they manage to do the impossible and view the songs completely out of context, conveniently forgetting everything about Baroness' own past, as well as the entire past of heavy metal as a genre. That is not something I'd ever be able to do, as necessity drives me to give the album a thumbs down rating — I mean, I'm sorry about the overturned bus incident and all, but then, why should a personal tragedy necessarily lead to a public one? At least from my perspective, this is bland, boring, derivative muzak that totally misplaces the band's talents and never rises up to the task of properly moving the listener; here's hoping that, once the trauma is finally overcome, they will return to what they do best (kicking ass) instead of pushing this crappy pseudo-soulful grunge-metal on us.

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