Baroness’ rock is both intricate and blunt, and like most music that’s intricate and blunt, is easiest to classify as metal. Sure enough, they’re neck deep in the scene, recording for a premier label and doing artwork for Guitar World. Staring at frontman John Baizley’s Art Nouveau jacket art, you can glimpse what sets them apart, though. Like their album titles (this one follows up Red Album), there is a conspicuous absence of heavy metal’s favorite color and mood. Baroness don’t have much about them that’s black.
Leaving out darkness would seem to be as fatal as ditching overdrive or the kick drum, and it’s not completely absent. They do slash through minor scales and kachugga-chugga plods, tones that would metalicize middle-of-the-road rock. But for metal, Blue Record is uplifting. When the twin lead guitars lock in with each other and spiral up though notes together, it’s bright, bright stuff – southern rock, essentially, and it makes up meaty sections of the songs here. But just as often, it’s simple; icy notes hang in the air while Baizley howls listlessly and rhythms grind like machines.
Their mix of purplish doom and filigree follows naturally from the band’s history. While they’ve been divided between metro areas – Atlanta, Savannah and New York – all the members all hail from Lexington, Virginia. Lexington is one of those of college towns in the mountains where the three-guitar jam is the cardinal sound, yet there’s enough churn in the culture that localboys could get their hands on underground tunes. Twenty miles further out, not so many options. If it weren’t for the shared youth, the prog-not-prog twists might not come so logically.
Red Album opened with three epics that flowed like a suite, then lost focus. No problems like that on Blue. It moves from chisels to sledgehammers without a care. It’s not always obvious if a song is ending or moving to another section. “A Horse Called Golgotha” starts off with whistling fireworks, real mountaintop-solo drama, and during five minutes ratchets all the way to claustrophobic thrash, returning through each gear unpredictably.
Part of what makes it hard to split it up into songs is it’s difficult to figure out what they’re singing about. It’s not that the words can’t be heard. “Jake Leg” opens with the words “Jake leg / Steal this wine away / Flay me underneath the brine” for instance. After a dozen close listens, I’ve still got no idea where they’re going with that. The titles are more evocative than the words, “Blackpowder Orchard,” “Ogeechee Hymnal” and the like conjure up kudzu-wrapped farms and roadside memorials to pickup truck accidents. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an overarching concept. It doesn’t matter one way or another. It’s a gallop from start to finish. Blue Record is going to be hard to top.