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Baroness – Purple

on December 18, 2015, 12:02am
B+
Release Date
December 18, 2015
Label
Abraxan Hymns
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd

Out of respect, I won’t elaborate on the details of the bus crash Baroness suffered while touring England in 2012. It’s been heavily documented, the story told and retold since it happened — a tragedy that should befall no band, or anyone, for that matter. “The band suffered a gigantic bruise,” singer-guitarist John Baizley said. “It was an injury that prevented us from operating in a normal way for quite some time.”

Purple is their triumphant comeback, encapsulating the grief, recovery, and revitalization of Baroness. It’s not so much about the accident itself, but the emotional implications surrounding it: a coming to terms, spiritually and musically. Aside from overcoming physical injuries, how does one pick up a guitar after a collective near-death experience without saying, “What’s the fucking point?” We play music with our friends because it’s fun and gives meaning to life. But when life interferes, as it so violently did to Baroness, how could it possibly be fun anymore?

By addressing these questions through their music, Baroness have achieved reconciliation. They’re having fun again. Purple is decidedly their best album, housing their best melodies and riffs they’ve ever written, fusing the softer stylings of Yellow & Green with the passionate heaviness of Red Album and Blue Record. With producer Dave Fridmann (the George Martin-esque force behind the Flaming Lips’ pinnacle albums), Baroness open their sonic palette wide open, and the results are inspiring.

Opener “Morningstar” signals the valiant return; the riffing is powerful and positive, and Baizley’s vocals are more dynamic than ever, finding a balance between the Hetfield bark of old Baroness and the melodic crooning on Yellow & Green. It’s hard to imagine that the same guy who belted out the burly chorus of “Rays on Pinion” is now holding down the hyper-melodic phrases of “Chlorine & Wine” like a true singer.

Baroness have come so far from their early sludge metal sound. Purple flows with progressive songcraft, from the flush grooves of the instrumental “Fugue” to the chunky power pop of “The Iron Bell”. It’s more a heavy-tinged rock record than straight metal, though lead guitarist Peter Adams unfurls his fair share of killer riffs. “Desperation Burns” is the heaviest track here and should appeal to fans of old-school Baroness with its thrashy riffing. “Kerosene” touts urgent, punk-ish tempos and faster fretwork. These tracks are balanced by nuanced pieces like the baroque ballad “If I Had to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)”, which showcases Adams’ versatility through a dense, orchestral build of layered guitars and strings.

Fridmann’s open-ended production and the jazz-influenced playing of new bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson help make Purple a varied yet cohesive record, but it’s Baizley’s passion that gives these songs their lasting power. Typically a vague romantic, Baizley opens up on Purple, and many of these songs reference — through metaphor — the bus crash and its aftermath. “If I Have to Wake Up” faces the immediacy of what the band endured post-accident (“Kill the life/ There’s something wrong with today”). “Chlorine & Wine” documents the uphill strife of recovery (“Please don’t lay me down/ Under the rocks where I found/ My place in the ground/ A home for the fathers and sons”). Baizley’s words are filled with a warm sentiment and optimism. In a darker time, bed-ridden, broken, and unable to play guitar, those words — those positive emotions — might’ve been all he had. “I wanted to celebrate my misery through my creativity and face it head on,” Baizley said. “The lyrics on Purple are about the different paths that formed in the fallout of the crash, from very direct stories about difficult moments of suffering to the love I feel for people who were there for me.”

Purple is a redemptive statement that’s indelibly human, going far beyond mere notes and music. It speaks to the deeper powers of creation: the artistic struggle to maintain, survive, and somehow have fun in the face of death, a fate Baroness defied and overcame.

Essential Tracks: “Chlorine & Wine”, “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)”

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