It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but over the years Baroness have enjoyed a gradual ascension into being one of the best-loved bands in rock and metal, without relying on any gimmicks or bravado.
Here sees the group’s fifth full-length album, ‘Gold & Grey’, their first to feature guitarist and backing vocalist Gina Gleason, and also a continuation of their work with producer Dave Fridmann.
‘Front Toward Enemy’ opens the album with some weighty riffing as you’d expect, but there’s no indicators of what’s to come, and what follows is a journey across many landscapes. ‘Gold & Grey’ is best enjoyed from start-to-finish with as little distractions as possible. Closing the book on their ‘colour’ chronology, this is a cathartic record by many accounts. With certain lyrical passages appearing multiple times throughout, this certainly conveys that these songs are connected in some way.
The subtly powerful ‘I’m Already Gone’ really gets us into gear, along with ‘Seasons’, assisted by drummer Sebastien Thomson‘s ability to change grooves multiple times but in a very fluid way. ‘Tourniquet’ features plenty of melodic hooks, and some stellar guitar work from both John Dyer Baizley and Gleason.
We’re later teased with ‘Anchor’s Lament’ to lead us into ‘Throw Me An Anchor’, and it’s from here onwards when things really pick up. Baroness begin to explore many avenues, and whilst ballad territory is often a risk, the truly uplifting ‘I’d Do Anything’ ticks all the boxes.
‘Emmett – Radiating Light’ isn’t the only number to rely on finger-picked acoustic guitar pattern, but this haunting yet seductive number is yet another significant addition, with Baizley‘s crooned delivery at the centre. ‘Cold Blooded Angels’ is another highlight amongst many, again starting with a finger-picked acoustic guitar before morphing into a truly anthemic beast.
Yet, a talking point that will no doubt rear its head, much like it did with 2015’s ‘Purple’, is the production; the heavy compression and over-distortion will be noticeable to many at times, to the extent that even some of the lighter sections sound invasive, especially on headphones (such as the piano in ‘Sevens’). The outro to ‘Seasons’ features background noise that almost drowns out the band, and the sonically lighter ending of ‘Torniquet’ is at exactly the same volume as what’s come before.
Still, with such intense compression, it can only be in there to confuse people on purpose as a deliberate artistic decision and, to give Fridmann some credit, ideas like the flanged-out strings in ‘Anchor’s Lament’ and the off-kilter guitar in ‘Crooked Mile’ help to bring the experimental nature of this record home.
In spite of the production issues, which could threaten to derail another band’s work, the world-class levels of songwriting on display mean that this is simply a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things. With such mastery of their craft, there’s no way this will be just another exhibit of the loudness war. Some songs bump the album rating up on their own merit, with much of the record revealing itself slowly but surely with repeat listens as well.
Baroness have truly come into their own, and ‘Gold & Grey’ deserves to be remembered as a record that truly transcends the boundaries of the genre that it came from. With some justice, Baroness‘ rise should only continue further.