Review: Baroness Solidify Their Genre Supremacy on Stone
Ever since their 2007 debut album Red, Baroness has remained among the best sludge/progressive metal bands around. With each release building on the last, 2019’s Gold & Grey was arguably the group’s most alluring, epic, confident, and well-rounded effort to date. But that was four years ago and fans have been patiently waiting for more.
Thankfully, that album’s successor Stone is coming this Friday and I’m glad to say it was well worth the wait. Though it doesn’t necessarily match the sprawling scope of its predecessor (not that it needed to), it’s nonetheless a very worthwhile, sundry, and rewarding follow-up that furthers Baroness’ genre hegemony.
Leading up to its release, frontman John Baizley described Stone as feeling “a lot more alive [and] more direct” than past records. He also explained that the record finds them “continuously inventing” in an effort to not “repeat [themselves].” While there’s certainly an invigorating spirit and conciseness to the entire thing—and a bigger emphasis on psychedelic luminance—it’s far from a brand-new Baroness. Rather, it feels like the familiar yet ambitious, captivating, and logical next step after Gold & Grey.
At first glance, one major deviation from the band’s past output is the fact that this effort is their first that wasn’t named after a color. Sure that’s a superficial point to make, but like most things with the band, Baizley said in a recent chat with Invisible Oranges that was a deliberate choice.
“When we had been previously engaged in our color-themed records; it was always conceived as a finite project. . . . When Gold & Grey was done, I was internally trepidatious about what we would do next, because it was usually easy; it was scary. The thing I realized . . . is that . . . the idea was to just transition from one era into the next and nothing needed to change inexorably. Where Gold & Grey was the last piece of that particular puzzle and then Stone became the first piece in the next one.”
Regarding its title and direction, he continued:
“I had been taking a great deal of inspiration daily from this cemetery behind my house called West Laurel Hill; it had gorgeous old mausoleums and is an amazingly serene, peaceful and large place. When you think back to all those turbulent years that we all struggled with, I found some calm and meaning that translated into lyrics and music. . . . The four of us had gained a level of stability that we hadn’t otherwise had before; it was a cornerstone, a foundation for us; I was literally surrounded by stones.
“The real difficulty for me on this record was finding that lyrical content, which isn’t a small portion of the record, it’s huge. . . . It reminded me of Greek mythology and the fate of Sisyphus who was punished by having to push a stone up a hill daily and after achieving it had to repeat the task infinitely. The idea of these repeated processes only to yield nothing, but I started to realize that there may have been something there to take away from it all. It was ok to throw something away that I worked hard on and start anew.
“One thing that is important for our records to reach the proper audiences is that we don’t always spell out to our fans through the songs or album titles. Ultimately, we are not telling a story of one person, however one of experience, absorbing the world around us and reflecting on them through the lyrics. I felt that Stone had all these symbols that were relevant to me and the rest of us which were conceptual and more personal, something that our more intrepid fans can kind of dig through. It worked on the foundation that all our records worked out from and clearly signaled a sea change for something.”
For sure, Stone is an exceptionally poised, adventurous, and fascinating statement that represents the best of what Baroness can do.
Naturally, it kicks off with a somberly folksy prelude—“Embers”—that sees Baizley and guitarist Gina Gleason (who joined the group with Gold & Grey) harmonizing regrets and wishes over acoustic fingerpicking, bird chirps, and dour piano chords. It’s a simple yet beautifully warm and rich ballad that immediately sucks you in, demonstrating how great Baroness have gotten at crafting such rustic odes.
Further on, “The Dirge” lives up to its name by offering similarly pastoral lamentations (“And then we’ll be together / You and I as one / I’ll feel your light forever / And burn beneath your sun”). Plus, the foursome employs acoustic guitars throughout the sequence, leading up to gorgeous closer “Bloom” bringing the whole journey full circle with comforting themes and increasingly haunting evolutions.
Along the way, the band also dive into some of their catchiest, heaviest, and/or most exploratorily peculiar material to date. Whereas “Last Word” is a fairly typical rocker (with all of the hypnotic hooks and multilayered curiosities you’d expect), “Beneath the Rose” is a trickier and darker beast that—at the risk of making an all-too-tired and obvious comparison—combines the sinister stoner/prog metal mastery of Mastodon with the desert rock mischief of Queens of the Stone Age. The final portions are particularly captivating due to their vibrantly complex instrumentation, segueing seamlessly into ominously arid jam “Choir.”
Other aggressive highlights come from the dual guitarwork of “Anodyne”; the vigorous percussion and trippy tangents of “Shine”; the sheer dynamic brilliance of “Magnolia” (going from peacefully mournful to distortedly forsaken); and the occasionally hellish vocals and timbres of penultimate gem “Under the Wheel.” At its diabolical peak, that last tune might be Baroness’ fiercest track ever, thereby allowing the surrounding tranquilities and peculiarities to resonate deeper by contrast.
Because it doesn’t last nearly as long as Gold & Grey, Stone somewhat lacks that record’s expansive splendor. It more than makes up for it, though, by delivering a more focused, diverse, and accessible experience. In other words, it’s just as amazing in its own ways, and regardless of where it ranks alongside its predecessor(s), it’s clear that Baroness have rarely, if ever, sounded this united, motivated, resourceful, and special.
Baroness’ Stone will be released on September 15 via Abraxan Hymns. You can grab your copy wherever you get your music.