One of the strange and unintended consequences of our 24 hour rolling news and arts media is that responses and reviews must be instantaneous, immediate, or they get nowhere. You can understand this when it comes to news headlines, less so when it comes to talking and discussing music. I can imagine just how galling it can be for an artist to have spent about two years on what they regard as a masterpiece to have it trashed in print within five minutes.
It’s therefore something of a blessed relief that I’m able to review the latest Baroness record, now one year old, having given it plenty of time to live, breathe and sink into my consciousness for the best part of a year. Blue Record is the second full length opus from the Georgia, USA band, following on from their 2007 debut, Red Record.
This is an album that made all the “best of 2009” lists of the usual suspects and self- appointed “tastemakers” with perfunctory ease. Perhaps somewhat surprising given that the band’s debut was, in all honesty, cautiously received. This then was the supposed great leap forward. So, a year on: does this assessment of greatness stand up?
In a word: yes. Ridiculously so. Blue Record is a genuine epic, full of verve, imagination and thrills. A record to live with and to indulge. A record for the short sharp shock that only metal can provide, but equally a record that warrants and demands your full attention and indulgence. It’s that rare beast – a proper album with an (admittedly, opaque) narrative arc interspersed with those standout metal tunes for your driving playlist.
Baroness have all the expected hallmarks of sludge metal in place. Growling vocals, screeching guitars, a dark and muddied production. These combine beautifully to create a soundscape that is unmistakably murky and determinedly impenetrable.
However, that’s only part of the story. Baroness have been spearheading a creative renaissance of deep southern rock music, along with the likes of Mastodon and Kylesa. The links to Mastodon are obvious but without the overt literary or philosophical referencing. However, there is a wider, deep southern rock mentality and aesthetic running through this record – echoes of Mountain here, a snippet of Lynyrd Skynyrd there. Combine this with a fierce intelligence, an obsessional attention to harmony and melody (at times, there is work that would not be out of place at a Fleet Foxes concert) and you have the ingredients and application for an exciting and heady mix.
Blue Record is also full of intriguing and enigmatic contradictions – at times you get the sense that these friends turned up and jammed for one seamless, energised afternoon, as one tune effortlessly bleeds into another. Deep down, however, you know that there has been a meticulous attention to detail, a desire to take the listener with the band on its ebbs and flows, highs and lows. It’s a thrilling, visceral and often hypnotic experience that, if you’ve not yet gotten around to having it, will hook you up for life.
written by Mat Davies