After their tour bus plummeted from a viaduct near Bath, England, resulting in severe injuries for the band and passengers, it would be easy to understand why Baroness might want to call it quits.
They did just the opposite.
Vocalist/guitarist John Baizley has said that the Georgia metal band’s forthcoming album, Purple, available December 18, is the final word on the band’s highly-publicized 2012 crash. Even in the days following, the band was quite vocal about continuing (“Baroness doesn’t stop because we got hurt on the way to work,” Baizley said in a letter on the band’s website).
They return to Savannah for a rare hometown show on Saturday, bringing all the complex beauty and intensity of Purple with them.
“We didn’t want to make a mellow, sad, dark thing,” vocalist/guitarist Pete Adams said in a press release for Purple. “We needed to be up-tempo. We needed to be melodic, and it also needed to be aggressive. In all of that, I think we were able to get out everything we felt, all of the emotion involved, everything from being angry to wanting to continue to push forward.”
Upon the amicable departure of their rhythm section (Matt Maggioni and Brian Blickle), Adams and Baizley recruited new bassist/keyboardist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson, whose contributions solidify Baroness the unstoppable force it’s always been.
Dave Fridmann, a producer long-admired by Baizley, is at the helm for Purple; though his lauded projects differ greatly from Baroness stylistically (ten records for The Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, OK Go, MGMT, and more), his caring approach to space, texture, and layered dynamics is key in Purple’s success.
Purple approaches with fists swinging on first track “Morningstar.” A thick, muscular verse opens up into an anthemic chorus, diving back down into dueling guitar leads and high-hat heavy drums. It curls its claws around the listener; don’t expect to look back.
The record has this invincible tenderness about it, as if Baizley and company have laid out all the anguish and uncertainty of the past few years and built a towering fortress around it. Single “Shock Me” comes lilting in with an unexpected synth lead and warm, carefully spaced guitar picking, only to be toughened up with a layer of signature Baroness distorted guitar: fizzy and terse in the tradition of classic metal. When a harmonizing guitar comes in to coax the song into the verse, it’s nothing less than perfect; Baroness has created an album that’s unusual and timeless in its innovation. There’s triumph here, defiance and beauty and marrow.
Single “Chlorine & Wine” begins with transcendental ease: Baroness’s style is often labeled “intelligent metal,” “genre-defying,” and “line-blurring,” but this is just plain beautiful. As forerunners, the band’s gutsy risk-taking has given other metal bands permission to explore gentler sides of music-making, and the delicateness of “Chlorine & Wine” encapsulates that daring.
“When I called on my nursemaid/come sit by my side/but she cuts through my ribcage/and pushes the pills deep in my eyes,” Baizley sings, a clear documentation of his time spent in the hospital post-accident.
There’s a certain amount of physicality in the album’s imagery—bones are buried, lungs deflate. Water plays a huge role, golden anchors cast into the harbor. Soaring leads, turns like the end of “Kerosene,” which declares, “I’ll lay in the sun,” bring in a resilient sense of triumph.
Fridmann has handled vocals with glorious care; the chorus harmonies of “Chlorine & Wine” build like a choir; you can’t help but raise your hands and sing along.
As Baroness carries the listener out with “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)” and 17-second experimental clip “Crossroads of Infinity,” there’s a palpable sense of closure. Perhaps even better, there’s a fighting spirit for the future. With plans to roll “’till the wheels fall off,” we’re lucky to see what else our hometown heroes have in store.