by Skyler Gelinas
April 2016 (Volume 66, Issue 3)
Over the past decade, the four-piece sludge metal band Baroness has continually released some of the catchiest, heaviest, and most comprehensive albums the genre has to offer. Fronted by guitarist and painter John Dyer Baizley, and drawing from other influential sludge and alternative metal artists such as Mastodon, the band has now released four critically acclaimed albums. And, on their latest release, Purple, Baroness has followed in the footsteps of many active metal bands in making the genre more accessible.
Starting out as a noisier, heavier group, Baroness put out The Red Album, which consisted of distorted guitar solos, heavy breakdowns, and abrasive vocals. Since their third release however, the band has shown a shift towards a cleaner sound. This is a change which many describe as a “commercialization” of their music, a criticism Baizley addressed in an interview with the metal blog Invisible Oranges, where he stated that “the DIY and punk rock ethos is about finding your own identity. We will be doing that until we’re done.” And in Purple, Baroness proves that they have established this unique identity in the sludge and alternative scene.
The album’s opener, “Morningstar,” delivers some of Baroness’ trademark heavy riffs and fast drum beats, giving a great deal of power going into the record. The track also brings out the band’s melodic tendencies during the chorus, putting strong emphasis on riffs and solos. The next several songs contain some of the best use of synths Baroness has ever displayed, using light, ambient intros to usher in some of the catchiest tracks the album has to offer, like “Shock Me” and “Try to Disappear.” The song “Fugue” is perhaps one of the band’s most unique songs, which serves as an instrumental interlude into the second half of the album. The track grooves with a funky beat and upstrokes with high reverb, but becomes gradually heavier as the band introduces more guitar riffs and organs. The remainder of the album continues to display Baroness’ muck metal prowess, building up to a cathartic ending in the song “If I Have to Wake Up.” Here, the band fuses some of its most impressive instrumentation, rhythms, and riffs into a melodious breakdown, ending in a low, almost choral-sounding outro played on the electric organ.
Overall, Baroness has continued to make sludge metal a more accessible genre, but they have done so in a way that stays true to their roots in punk and hardcore. In Purple, the band has shown some of their most impressive instrumentation and catchy melodies, while still including the heaviness and aggressiveness of their earlier works. Ultimately, the band hasn’t let criticism define their work, and is yet to conform to the backlash from some of their most devout sludge metal followers, as doing so would be what John Dyer Baizley described as “the least punk rock and most ‘commercial’ thing you can do.”