Baroness doesn’t repeat itself. The Georgia quartet is shifty in that way; it finds a sound, hones it, and then leaves it behind to search for new, more challenging sonic territory. 2007’s Red Album was a pummeling debut LP, definitive of the sludgy metal brewing in Georgia at the time. Although frontman John Baizley screamed most of his lyrics, his knack for melody was evident on songs like “Wanderlust” and taken a step further on 2009’s sprawling Blue Record.
Yellow & Green sees Baroness going full-on melodic, embracing space and mood rather than bombast. Now, Baizley sings more often than he screams. Let the backlash begin: “Baroness is getting soft.” In the cutthroat world of heavy metal fandom, Yellow & Green is a death wish. But that’s irrelevant. Music should be judged on merit, not expectations. And Baroness has no interest in fulfilling your expectations. They might wield heavy metal weaponry—the beards, the fuzzy power chords, the fantastical motifs and cover art—but they think like art rockers, never satisfied with sticking to a formula or re-imagining past efforts.
Yellow & Green isn’t a double album, but two separate albums functioning as one. The record’s press release makes it clear: Tracks 1-9 are Yellow, tracks 10-18 are Green. It’s imperative that listeners make this distinction because, let’s face it, 90% of double LPs are bloated, cumbersome, convoluted. Baroness avoids these traps by separating the albums, and it wasn’t done arbitrarily, as each side has its own vibe.
Yellow begins with a thematic intro (the band’s always had a propensity for instrumental interludes) before launching into “Take My Bones Away”, a souring anthem that’s as poppy as it is metallic. There are prog-y keyboard flourishes, buildups, drop outs, lyrics about pills—Baroness crams a lot into the song’s five-minute runtime and somehow pulls it off. All the while, Baizley sings, his voice finding a safe middleground between Dave Grohl and James Hetfield.
Baroness sways to and fro, foiling loud moments with gentle ones. “Little Things” opens with calm, jangly guitar that latches onto Allen Blickle’s propulsive drumming. By the end of the track, solos are ringing, distortion is churning, and Baizley is belting a chorus of “When the tide rolls in…” This climax comes out of nowhere and segues into “Twinkler”, a gorgeous acoustic ballad akin to Blue Records’ “Steel That Sleeps the Eye”. Baizley composed much of Yellow & Green at home while his infant daughter slept in the other room. Perhaps that’s why the soft songs are so affecting. They’re played with care and attention (which can also be said for most of the musicianship on the album), and John Congleton’s production hides not a single note. Yellow closer “Eula” is especially notable for its sonic palette: Baizley’s shouts of “I can’t forget the taste of my own blood” remain distinguishable amidst loud drums and deafening swarm of guitars.
Baroness downshifts on Green. The tempos are slower, the songs less immediate. “Board Up the House” kicks off with a plodding bassline and Baizley crooning, “We wanted the best for our sweet little September castaway/ I’m already gone.” It’s fruitless to deduce meaning from his lyrics because they’ve always been cryptic. However, on Yellow & Green, his words seem rooted more in reality than medieval imagery (as was the case on past releases). Guitarist Pete Adams also experiments. When Baizley’s melodies fall flat (“Psalms Alive”), Adams’ twangy fills and layered effects provide a safety net. The songs never lose their momentum. Adams takes center stage on Green’s finale, “The Line Between”, his fingers flying across the fretboard while Baizley makes his closing statements: “Walk the line between the righteous and the wicked/And tomorrow I’ll be gone.” The album ends peacefully with “I Forget Thee, Low Country”, an outro of ambient guitar.
At nearly 80 minutes in length, Yellow & Green is a daunting record made less daunting when divided in half. Yellow is the day to Green’s night; they’re mutually exclusive. Tracks are sequenced for maximum effect, flowing into one another via crossfades and interludes. This artsy approach might be off-putting for fans of Baroness’ more aggressive output. So be it. Baroness possesses an acute sense of melody, unpredictable songwriting, and vision for its work. Yellow & Green encapsulates all of those things, and, consequently, it’s one of the year’s most engaging metal albums.
Essential Tracks: “Take My Bones Away”, “Eula”