July 28, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
Sometimes bands shouldn’t be allowed to talk too much about new albums. It puts the willies up their fans. In the same way Opeth’s Mikeal Åkerfeld warned fans that Heritage would arrive sans death metal, Baroness frontman John Baizley announced before the release of Yellow & Green that he was ‘over writing heavy music.’
That’s a terrifying concept for fans to comprehend. Baroness’s reputation was built on a history of belting riffs and Baizley’s bellowing, and anything less than a riff monster was bound to cause upset. From the hardcore shredathon of First & Second, to the more expansive but no-less impressive Red Album and 2010’s more song-drive epic Blue Record, Baroness were always heavy metal for the thinking man.
So the bands newest album, continuing the colour theme of previous albums, is titled Yellow & Green. Arriving with some impressive artwork from Baizely (almost as well-known for his sleeve-work with bands such as Black Tusk and Flight of the Concords as he his for his music), this double-album monster may just be the most impressive rock album of the year. For the Savannah, Georgia quartet to actually release a double-album in a ‘download everything’ era is a brave choice, but Baroness have always created records that are self-contained experiences. Here they’ve made their most sprawling, expansive and down-right impressive release of their career.
Opening with Yellow Theme, they stick to the traditional instrumental intro before ploughing headlong into Take My Bones Away. With its driving fuzzy riffs and catchy-bellowed chorus, it’s pretty much the only song on the whole album that could have slotted nicely into Blue. Following with March To The Sea, Little Things and Twinkler, we see the new side of Baroness, and this could be where many old-skool fans stumble. The galloping riffs are replaced with softer melodic vocals and clean guitars much of the time. It’s Baroness Jim, but not as we know it. Throughout the album, vocals are brought to the fore, and there’s much greater focus on the hooks and concise songwriting. The long, winding song structures are replaced with more straight ahead rock/pop structure, but there are so many new styles brought in from every angle. Queens of The Stone Age’s take on stoner pop, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd can all be felt throughout the veins of the songs, but never detract from the core Baroness sound. Little Things still contains some soaring vocals, and a slow but searing solo, while Cocainium mixes psychedelic eeriness with a driving chorus.
This feels like a very honest album. It has a vintage feel and Baizley isn’t afraid to let his sometimes less-than-perfect tones keep the limelight. For much of the record, the easiest point of reference for older fans are the interludes pieces from Blue; think Steel That Sleeps The Eye and Ogeeche Hymnal, stretched out with cleaner vocals on top. But despite this mellowing towards a rock sound- Baroness aren’t becoming the next Aerosmith. The pop undertones could make it easy for Torche comparisons, but Baroness are miles better. In reality their sound is best comparable to Mastodon if they took the melody of Crack The Skye and channelled it through the rock-pop sensibilities of The Hunter.
Y&G feels like a more mature record, the different elements combining to make songs that create more of an intense atmosphere than previous efforts. At times it’s eerie and ambient like on Foolsong, others it feels intense and claustrophobic, such as the slow six-minute Eula. Yellow contains more prog influences and has a more upbeat feel; the mighty Sea Lungs encapsulating all the best parts of the album into one three-minute wonder. Green on the other hand is content to creep into more folk/country tinged territory, and overall retains a more sombre tone. Board Up The House slowly builds to into a sweet vocal line with a soft poppy vocal with a rumbling undertone that’s busting to get out, while Mtns. (The Crown & Anchor) is more quiet and introspective.
Baroness have created something very seventies feeling but retains its modern edge. Out of the two, Yellow is the stronger side, mostly due to having more standout moments and more rock-driven numbers, as opposed to Green‘s slower songs and relaxed feel. Combined they provide an enjoyable (albeit long) journey that you’ll want to repeat again and again. There will be those who will still miss the huge riffs and bellows of old. And Green is guilty of meandering slightly at times, but focuses itself for the final statement, snapping back into life for The Line Between, probably the highlight of the side.
Y&G is a shock to the system. Its DNA is still rooted in Baroness’s history but has taken a significant step in a new direction. It needs and deserves multiple listens to fully absorb everything that’s going on, and the experience is rewarding for the effort put in. To constantly lament the lack of one part of their sound ignores the point that they’ve added so many new things into their palette. Give it enough time and it will easily become your highlight of the year, and perhaps even your favourite Baroness record yet.