by Paul Stephenson
Baroness may have won plenty of plaudits for their first full length, ‘The Red Album’ but for me there was always a nagging feeling that perhaps the overall end product was not quite as accomplished as the sum of its parts. Unlike their peers Mastodon it was a little too unfocused, a little too reliant on meaningless noodling and prog rock experimentation that could have easily have been left on the cutting room floor.
But on their second full length, Baroness have tightened up their act and provided their naysayers with plenty of humble pie to chow down on over the course of its 42 minutes. Somehow this second album doesn’t sound so much like a departure (its sound is as rich and luxuriant and dirty as before) as it is a massive expansion on their previous work. Gone are the overlong musical noodles, replaced by more focused jams, the interludes remain in place, but are altogether more listenable.
But the real difference here is in the quality of the song writing. Whereas before it was altogether too easy to label the songs on ‘Red’ as Mastodon-lite, on ‘Blue’ Baroness have taken their cues more from the likes of Thin Lizzy and ‘Torche’ and welded their impressive guitar work to epic song writing of the type that would make Dave Grohl sit weeping into his cocoa.
Take ‘The Sweetest Curse’ the first proper track. It opens with a nice enough little riff, which suddenly takes off and builds and builds until the song seems to be offering epic choruses in abundance, rather than verse and chorus. There are more ideas than songs here, and the result is a perfectly honed album that balances the dirty riffing that we expect from a band from Savannah, Georgia with an epic pop sensibility.
This theme continues throughout, ‘Jake Leg’ takes Leviathan era Mastodon and melds it to an almost Fu-Manchu bounciness. And then just when you think that you have the album sussed it swings into ‘Steel That Sleeps the Eye,’ a Fleet-Foxes style folk ditty, before crunching into the very Torche-esque ‘Swollen and Halo.’
Not that this is by any means a perfect album. There are still moments where the widdle goes on for too long, distracting from the strength of the song. ‘A Horse Called Golgotha’ may have one of the biggest choruses on display here, but it’s about a minute too long, and suffers from having stolen a bit of ‘Crack The Skye’ for its middle section. So too ‘The Gnashing’ suffers from a very randomly twee intro that sounds more like a school band trying to show off a few chords than it does an intro, but once it gets going (after nearly three minutes) it sounds like you always thought Kings Of Leon should do when you saw the drummer’s old beard for the first time.
This is where the real strength of this album lies. Like all sludge/stoner/prog bands before them, they have to find a way to balance what has come before with a new direction. It’s why Mastodon made it to the big leagues, and it’s why Torche were last year’s metal darlings, beloved by indie mags and metal mags alike. And on this second album Baroness have proven that they too have the chops to stand out from the crowd and be noticed.