Setting the Stage: A steady rain descended on Manhattan as fans filtered into the industrial concert space Terminal 5 for a stacked bill. Baroness and Deafheaven were making the final stop on their co-headlining tour with support from Zeal & Ardor, and though none of these bands sound alike, they all craft metal on their own terms and without creative borders. From the swamplands of Georgia, Baroness emerged 15 years ago with their joyous, lyrical sludge, while Deafheaven rose out of San Francisco at the beginning of the decade to turn black metal onto itself for positivity and romance rather than evil. There were artistic parallels and a welcome sonic contrast between bands, which made for a lively, well-paced evening of music.
Taking the Stage: Zeal & Ardor treated early arrivals to a captivating set of spiritual blackened blues metal, led by frontman Manuel Gagneux. One of the most unique acts on the metal scene, Zeal & Ardor provided a powerful punch with songs like “Don’t You Dare” and “Gravedigger’s Chant” off their critically acclaimed 2018 album, Stranger Fruit, and along with cuts like “Blood in the River” and title track off their 2016 debut, Devil Is Fine.
Deafheaven then took the stage to roars of appreciation, opening with the blistering New Bermuda track “Brought to the Water”, the speed of the song shocking the audience from its between-set stupor. Frontman George Clarke immediately took command, wielding and gesturing his arms like a pair of twin blades to the cadence of his vibrant howls, emphasizing his phrases with karate chops and fists thrusted skyward. The crowd reacted accordingly as a circle pit formed, essentially making the floor an unavoidable area during the band’s faster songs.
Their latest single “Black Brick” came early in the set, a definite highlight and a crushing example of Deafheaven’s versatility as songwriters. If this song is a hint at new material, then it hails the return of the band’s demo-era harshness and most metal tendencies. The crowd loved it (the Slayer-like breakdown in the midsection had heads bobbing) and the enthusiastic movements of the band hinted that they did, too. More than a few times guitarist Kerry McCoy and bassist Chris Johnson let a smile slip as they played their heaviest riffs in years. This was followed by the adventurous compositions “Honeycomb” and “Canary Yellow” from last year’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. The softer dynamics in these songs were a welcome reprieve (break time for the circle pit dwellers) and a classy exercise in set building. Clarke even jumped in on keyboards, leaving his dominant position centerstage. If the band sounded on top of its game at full tilt, they nailed the gentle sections with as much tact, guiding the set to a thoughtful conclusion.
Baroness had the arduous task of following Deafheaven’s dynamic performance, but they quickly won over the crowd with the emotional weight of their songs. Blue Record staple “A Horse Called Golgoltha” opened the set with the literary sludge metal of their early days, when they were still holding down the Savannah, Georgia, metal scene alongside bands like Kylesa. From DIY origins, Baroness has grown into a metal institution thanks to their artful record making and constant tours, traversing the world and sharing the stage with the likes of Metallica and Mastodon. A lot has happened over the years, including a devastating bus crash, and the band’s members have changed as the project has grown. But frontman John Baizley has always found new musicians to achieve Baroness’ artistic vision.
The latest addition of guitarist Gina Gleason for longtime member Peter Adams (who left the band amicably in 2017) adds a new vitality to the band. A veritable shredder who cut her chops in Cirque Du Soleil, Gleason is an energetic performer both technically and visually, stomping around the stage and lining up alongside Baizley for synchronized riffage. The middle of the set included recent singles from the forthcoming Gold & Grey LP, “Borderlands” and “Seasons” — a couple of the catchiest material the band’s ever composed and teeming with ferocious guitar leads. Gleason ripped through them with a virtuosic touch. Being the only songs written since she joined, the band seemed most comfortable and loose for the new cuts.
Baroness stuck mostly to 2012’s Yellow & Green and 2015’s Purple, only dipping into the Red Album only for “Isak”. The band’s post-Blue output has a triumph and warmth: It is metal played out of joy and exhilaration rather than anger and hatred, and this translated to the stage. The set had an uplifting progression, closing with the Yellow hit “Take My Bones Away”. It has become the band’s pinnacle song because it distills the finest qualities of Baroness into five minutes, an expression of pain cathartically channeled into an expression of happiness and one of overcoming. It’s this element of their music that is so endearing and has led the band from humble Southern origins to massive venues like Terminal 5. It’s metal you can smile to.
Photo Gallery: Baroness, Deafheaven, and Zeal & Ardor in New York City (click to enlarge and scroll though):
All photos by Kevin RC Wilson (@kevinwilsonnyc)
A Horse Called Golgotha
March to the Sea
Chlorine & Wine
If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain?)
The Sweetest Curse
Take My Bones Away
Brought to the Water