Album Reviews – Baroness “Red Album” 2007 & “Blue Record” 2009

Long the darlings of the indie music magazines, Baroness finally piqued my interest when I saw both releases side by side* at Vortex Records. The surprised clerk declared this a shopping victory, and both records criminally underpriced at $7.99 apiece. “Blue is better than Red“, he said, “but both are pretty great”. Leave your Matrix jokes up here and proceed to the land of Baroness:

  My first listen to the Red Album  didn’t go so well, as I became infuriated by the sheer excess of the proceedings. Red sounds like Master of Reality, Opiate and Moving Pictures fighting in a burlap sack with the first Killing Joke record standing outside and beating them with a stick. Just when the head begins to nod to any particular beat or riff, or you attempt to puzzle out some of the deceptively simple lyrics, Baroness are off and running to new musical locations. There is beautiful musicianship here, but grasping it is for those with patience, as Red is going to steamroller towards its thundering conclusion with or without you, fueled up for the long haul and wearing a catheter. Recording is of the expensively shabby variety, with drums exhibiting a retro-cavernous feel that puts your melon right inside the kicker. Right around the fourth listen is when I started to get into the groove of things, although I think my perceptions were made more accommodating by having Blue on hand as well.

  The Blue Record is immediately more accessible, with more attention paid to traditional song structures, attempts at vocal harmonies and smoother transitions throughout. There’s a bit less noodling and a bit more engagement, playing fetch once in a while rather than merely inviting chase. The twin guitar attack is as precise as before, but it feels more like something Baroness are sharing with you rather than keeping to themselves. One less majestic thing Blue shares with its spiritual predecessor is a lack of direction to the vocals, almost as if it doesn’t matter to the band whether the tracks have a singer or not. It’s not poor singing or lack of intelligibility (I like grindcore, remember?), just a bit of a void on lung detail. Try to imagine the bummer if some of the bands responsible for the grab-bag of heaviness I mentioned earlier had a mediocre approach to vocals. I know it’s a convention of the sludge/doom/shoegaze scene to just stand there and yell, and not everyone is Serj Tankian, but music as sweeping, complex and mind-bending as the opus Baroness create on Red and Blue deserves hall-of-fame expression at each and every station.

Baroness are not every-day material, nor should they be. This is strong, heavy music that demands full attention. I suppose I could have just said the store clerk was right. Red: 7 out of 10 / Blue: 8 out of 10

*It could have been two hours of someone recording their farts and I would have made the effort to review these records, if only to get that fantastic artwork up. Band leader John Dyer Baizley is a polymath indeed.

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One Response to “Album Reviews – Baroness “Red Album” 2007 & “Blue Record” 2009”

  1. […]   Skeletonwitch – Beyond the Permafrost and Breathing the Fire, $7.99 for the pair. Deathly fun with serious riff chops. Have you seen this amazing artwork before? […]

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