The mighty Baroness is back with their much anticipated follow-up to 2007's critically-acclaimed Red Album, and the bar has been set pretty high. So do Baroness clear it? Read on to find out.
First, it bears mentioning that the band has replaced guitarist Brian Blickle (who left on very peaceable terms, from what reports say) with Peter Adams, and many have wondered how this would affect the band's sound (reviewer included). The answer - not at all (or at least not negatively). The same crushing riffs abound, along with the same Southern-sweet, yet edgy and progressive noodlings found on their previous albums. Speaking of noodlings, there are possibly even more experiments present on this album than its predecessor, both in terms of song and album structure, as well as actual audio experimentation.
Case in point for song structure experimentation: the tracks range in length from just over a minute to well over six minutes, as is the case with "Swollen and Halo" (which really is a companion piece with the previous track, which makes the entire ensemble just over nine minutes in length), and yet each piece has its proper place within the overall context of the album. Also, the leitmotif contained in the first and last track, as well as the album's "halfway point" track "Ogeechee Hymnal" is also creative, although it is not the first time Baroness have done this (the melody from the Red Album's final track "Grad" is also present in the beginning of the opening track as well).
The cases in point for the above observation on audio experimentation are many. Examples include the creative use of envelope filters and other effects throughout the album, including the modified snare tones in "O'er Hell and Hide", the looping feedback tones which start "War, Wisdon and Rhyme", and even the layered, delayed vocals in the album's highlight, "The Sweetest Curse".
Yes, Baroness knows how to write both songs and entire albums very well, and they are masters of the heavy riff to be sure - but we already knew that. What needed to happen in order for this album to be truly impressive was for this band to develop their sound into an even better, richer and more interesting form than they previously have, and if you ask this reviewer, they have succeeded. What's more, they have done so within the confines of an even shorter album (Blue runs only 44-odd minutes, while Red ran around 47-plus).
Some folks may say that Red Album is better than Blue Record, and to them I would simply say, "maybe". What I can hear in this "sister" album to their 2007 masterpiece is that Baroness has kept the pedal to the metal, the riffs heavy, the vocals heavier, and the progressive knob turned up to full. Plus, the main weapon in the Baroness arsenal - the evocation of huge emotions by their continuously developing, masterfully-crafted wall of melody is put to full use yet again (in other words, this album just makes you feel like banging your head until your neck is sore). The final distinction of which of these two excellent albums is better really comes down to pure taste, and not so much to objective analysis (although undoubtedly some will attempt the latter).
But at the end of the day, it isn't about which album is better - this review is about the Blue Record, and in my opinion, the Blue Record truly kicks ass. It's another fine installment in the canon of a truly innovative and great band, and it continues a tradition of excellence that is expected to sustain long into the future. Long live the mighty Baroness!
Highlights (in no particular order)
The Sweetest Curse
A Horse Called Golgotha