Album Review: Baroness – Gold & Grey
There are times in life when one must empty oneself of everything. To remove extraneous distractions; to turn a tired present into a bright future; to cut any redundant, weighty anchors loose and reset the mental and spiritual mojo without such baggage throwing it out of whack. Not only is it a way in which to truly free yourself to put every bit of energy you have into forging forward, it also allows a person to take stock of themselves in the here and now, and assess who they are and who they want to be, with no gods or masters intervening.
Such is one meaning behind the title of Baroness’s fifth (and final ‘coloured’) album – an apparent “burning down of the house and a radical rebirth”, according to main-brain John Baizley. Even by Baroness’ own standard, never a band to include anything in the music that is throwaway or accidental, masters of knowing exactly what can be left out and what is both useful and beautiful, there is a focus and singularity of attention here that is truly dazzling. It doesn’t deny what has come before, but it doesn’t stand on the shoulders of previous work, either. It is, on its own two legs, an absolute masterpiece.
Where 2015’s Purple predecessor felt like a celebration, a joyous expression of relief after a mountain conquered, you can hear a far more complex self-analysis at work here. That album was written in the wake of the bus crash which, while it could have been so much worse, left John having to rehabilitate his arm to play guitar again, after doctors had to piece it back together with metal pins and plates. Those more immediate emotional outpourings are less in evidence here, with a darker undercurrent at play at times, more prepared to take time weaving its magic at its own pace. Opener Front Toward Enemy opens with a steady burst of proggy guitar and a big chorus, before I’m Already Gone brings in the first of many more slow-burning pieces. Seasons shows off the incredible guitar interplay between John and new six-stringer Gina Gleason, while Cold-Blooded Angels throws in sparkly, spacey moods before rising like a giant towards the song’s glorious climax.
Even during the loosest moments, such as on the thumping, chugging Broken Halo, or the relatively simple ballad I’d Do Anything, there is a deliberateness of touch and engagement of brain that raises these songs beyond simply being made up of lots of riffs. That is easy. But to make something born of such obviously high musical intelligence, deliberate thought and superior craftsmanship flow with such beautiful grace, and make you genuinely want to delve into the deep layers of intrigue in every nook and cranny? That is a rare talent indeed. John has spoken of the intense levels of work that went into this record, the obsessive concentration and mind-clouding strains that went into it, not to mention what doing this took out of him. What’s come out of such efforts, however, is something brilliant that frequently gives the impression of effortlessness.
That a new Baroness album is really good will be a surprise to nobody. They could have phoned this in down a bad transatlantic line from a telephone box and recorded it on to a knackered old tape they found in the loft and it would still be impressive. Instead, by trying to annihilate what’s gone before and truly raise themselves higher, they’ve created a special record, with a depth that will still have you under its spell a decade from now.
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