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After releasing several EP's, Baroness released their debut album in 2007 and it immediately won over numerous critics with the magazine Revolver even going as far as claiming it was the best album of 2007.
While, I wouldn't go that far - it is certainly a good album and a little bit different. Baroness hail from Savannah in Georgia and like so many of their fellow contemporaries from that area, tend to play sludge metal - unlike the majority of bands who like to keep the traditional deep south sludge metal sound throughout, these guys mix it up with haunted and sometimes ethnic sounding progressive music - which is usually simplistic yet highly effective.
Tracks like Teeth of A Cogwheel, Isak and Wanderlust have to be given a mention as they change speed seemlessly and rock a long at a comfortable sludge metal speed, more ambitious ones like O'Appalachia are intelligently put together yet may only appeal to specific tastes as the example given and the likes of Grad too, are slow starters with long marauding intros, I also like the way the band throw in the occasional bit of traditional heavy metal, just to mix it up further.
An arty band which retain plenty of their catchiness, the band have some similarities to High on Fire and Mastodon but I like to think of them as a Deep South version of Opeth and am not particularly surprised that they supported them on tour last year.
1. "Rays on Pinion" - 7:35
2. "The Birthing" - 5:03
3. "Isak" - 4:22
4. "Wailing Wintry Wind" - 5:44
5. "Cockroach en Fleur" - 1:50
6. "Wanderlust" - 4:29
7. "Aleph" - 4:21
8. "Teeth of a Cogwheel" - 2:16
9. "O'Appalachia" - 2:36
10. "Grad" - 5:54
11. Hidden Track - 12:11 (1:10 of play time, 11:01 of silence)
Music really does seem to move in cycles - ten years ago the British indie sector was where you went for smart and original music, with intelligent and exciting releases from Radiohead, Mansun, Manic Street Preachers, Gomez and a myriad of other great groups with their own unique sounds and styles. On the other side of the pond, the ugly, aggressive and largely brainless forces of nu-metal were gathering strength. Shot to fame on the back of a terrible novelty cover of a George Michael song, Limp Bizkit led the rap-rock revolution, which enabled Korn, Puddle of Mudd, Papa Roach and a whole host of other bands too terrible to recall to storm the charts.
In 2008, the opposite seems to be true of what was happening back in 1998. British indie is in its creative death roes, in part due to the NME magazine and its policy of building young talent up only to knock them down a year or so later. Bands such as Babyshambles, The Pigeon Detectives, The Fratellis and the Klaxons have been assaulting the public with a grotesque parody of 1970's new wave, and enthusiasts of unique and mold-breaking music need not apply. Funnily enough, American metal seems to have recovered from the inherent silliness of the rap-rock movement, as a crop of great younger bands have embraced and reclaimed laudable attributes such as musicianship, creativity and originality - groups like Isis, Mastodon, the Dillinger Escape Plan and Baroness, who for better or worse have been putting out music over the past few years that sounds like nothing else on the planet.
Baroness's Red Album is as strong a debut release as you are likely to find in this day and age. Combining the traditional metal mainstays of dual guitar riffage and powerful musicianship, the band also takes inspiration from stoner rock groups like Kyuss, American indie like Sonic Youth, and some of the prog-rock tendencies of latterday King Crimson. The result is an intoxicating and addictive sonic brew, which continues to entertain and hold your attention for the duration of the album. And although the quality of the songwriting dips slightly in the second half, there are enough interesting and exciting ideas being thrown around to ensure a consistent and enjoyable experience for the 56 minute duration.
Opening track Rays On Pinion showcases everything the band does right. Starting out with a vintage Sonic Youth-style intro, and then gradually amping things up to a full-on metal frenzy, Baroness display a real flair for dynamics as well as restraint, a quality that metal is perhaps not renowned for, but which yields surprisingly fluid and intelligent results. Other highlights include Wailing Wintry Wind, a dramatic composition that builds from a whisper to a satisfying climax, and features some powerful syncopated drumming - and Wanderlust, the memorable lead-off single which again showcases the band's clever use of unconventional guitar interplay, and their smart employment of heaviness and melody. Other songs, like the folky Cockroach En Fleur and the chilled-out Aleph act as instrumental bridges that break up the album, and provide sonic relief to the intensity on display elsewhere. Many of the rest of the tracks are enjoyable and interesting, and really do impress just how good the band really is. However, taken individually they simply do not have the immediate "wow factor" that say, Wanderlust and Rays On Pinion offer. The Birthing, Isak and Teeth Of A Cogwheel are all pretty excellent, but work much better in the context of the album itself.
The Red Album, as it happens, is sequenced incredibly well, and feels perfectly tied together almost like a real 1970's Dark Side-style record. This is quite an achievement for a debut release, and one which many bands aspire to yet fail in execution. Part of this is due to the pacing of the album, which gets the mix of riffage and atmosphere balanced out well. Unlike a lot of metal albums, you won't be overwhelmed by the intensity of the music for the entire duration. Conversely, you're not likely to get bored by too many sparse ambiences either - they get the formula just right.
But perhaps the greatest thing about this band is their ability to take an assortment of well-established sounds and techniques and then employ them in unexpected and sometimes subtly startling ways. They aren't inventing the wheel, merely refining the design to their own tastes. Every note on the album sounds potentially like a lot of thought went in at the writing stage, and this helps the material sound tight and very professional. Given how difficult it is in this day and age to make an established genre sound fresh - and this is particularly true of metal - I have to commend Baroness for their originality. Sure, you've heard all the different elements of this music before, but never juxtaposed in a way quite like this.
Well, I've gushed a lot about this album. It's been on my Zen Stone non-stop for months now, so I'm perhaps slightly biased. For a debut full-length release, the Red Album is every bit as great as you could reasonably expect it to be. I have no doubt that a few albums down the line, it will likely be eclipsed when the band really find their feet (and I have every confidence they will), but it represents a huge leap from their early EP's, and a pivotal step in their creative development. With a firm grasp of both brains and brawn, Baroness promise to banish the memory of big-shorted, baseball-capped idiot metal to the history books and help pull the genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I'll be along for the ride, and so should you.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Rays On Pinion
4 Wailing Wintry Wind
5 Cockroach En Fleur
8 Teeth Of A Cogwheel