Baroness Execute Triumph and Exuberance on Purple
Baroness’ tour-de-force Purple is already racking up invocations of “comeback” and “return to form” in the face of their near-career-and life-ending bus accident only two and half years ago. Which is all well and good, but those qualifications overlook the nuances and beauty in how this band literally rebuilt themselves from the ground-up to make this stunning piece of work; and more importantly, how they rediscovered themselves after forced member changes, a total world-shift, and a newfound perspective on life, love, and art.
Unlike albums from bands who have endured similar experiences, Purple is not the story of radical rebounce, like Candiria’s What Doesn’t Kill You…, nor is it an attempt to deal with the pain of tragedy through adolescent rage against the injustices of the world, like Metallica’s …And Justice For All. Purple is an album about the joy of the now: performed, written, and expressed with the same kind of exuberance and sense of discovery that a teenager picking up their first guitar feels. Which is exactly how it was written, hashed out over the course of a year in a basement, concurrent with the breaking-in of the band’s new rhythm section.
A lot has been made of the revival in genre-metal over the last decade, with bands like Tribulation, Ghost, Municipal Waste, High on Fire, Torche, and the like each flying the flag for “old school” music in their own way. But Baroness are in a class of their own, one of few modern bands that aren’t interested in standing side-by-side with the titans, nor in killing their idols to purposefully achieve a kind of “radicalism” that’s fetishized in the metal community these days. Rather, Baroness build on the work of the greats. There’s always been a hypnotically familiar majesty to their work – after all, we’re talking about straightforward songs with big choruses, climactic guitar solos, and driving rhythm sections – that comes out of a pure excitement in playing with the very stuff that makes up the language of heavy metal. You can hear influences from across a wide spectrum of styles, but the band’s focus isn’t on achieving a specific type of sound: it’s on wringing out the best melodies and ideas from their instruments. Baroness write riffs just like those other bands do, but they care about them in ways less mature (and notably, much younger) bands are incapable of. Like Charlie Parker, Frank Zappa, and other great melodic improvisers of the 20th century, Baroness mean every note – no conclusion of a melody is wasted, no progression through a line without purpose.
Although I loved many moments on Yellow & Green, a lot of the songs felt more like ideas; feelings the band had that they weren’t yet able to concentrate and communicate to their audience. Purple has some of the same experimental qualities, but the band has trimmed the fat. This is due in part to their new hyper-focused, fiery rhythm section taking an active role in composing. Drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist/keyboardist Nick Jost bring their individual musical backgrounds to the band (punk and jazz, respectively) in a way that’s felt more than heard – you can’t really point to one part or another and say “this is the hardcore influence” or “that’s a jazz fill.” Credit also goes to producer Dave Friddman, who captures the same youthful energy that he’s brought out of the Flaming Lips, Sleater Kinney, Weezer, and Thursday. But again, the focus on this thing comes back to the year that Baroness spent in a basement honing their craft, rediscovering the joy of playing music with others; finding a way to communicate with someone through sound.
So in that sense, there is a punk spirit that permeates Purple. Not the kind that you can quantify and market to a music consuming public, but a more primal kind that exists within the interstices of the compositions. They may not be toying with the avant-garde or experimenting in ways that these days help a band achieve critical praise, but in the current landscape, there is something radical about a band so staunchly committed to simple, life-affirming musical principles.
Baroness’ Purple is out December 18th on their own label, Abraxan Hymns. Stream the track “Chlorine and Wine” here, pre-order digital copies on iTunes or Amazon, or pick up the deluxe version via the band’s PledgeMusic page.