Baroness is back with a new album, and once again it is one of the centerpieces of the release schedule for this year. Still, a band that does things on their own terms, in a DIY punk rock way, but still creating heady music for music lovers by music lovers. Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns) is an album that arrives with a justified glow of hype, especially following Purple. The former album is actually the standard Ghost Cult uses in our grading system as “perfect”, in case you had been wondering about what kind of esteem we hold this band.
On a first listen, Gold & Grey is a sprawling masterpiece of tuneful, catchy rock songs, full of uplifting musical motifs, and powerful emotional peaks and valleys. The band may not be as heavy as they were at the start of their career, but this album rocks hard when it needs to. Feeling almost like a career retrospective, everything great about the band, as well as some new flavors can be found in these tracks. Most bands have hits, but all Baroness songs lately seem to be deep, deep cuts. You can hear threads in each one as a call back to an earlier point in the band, while also tilling new ground. The riffs of Red, the hooks of Blue, the solemn unplugged moments of Yellow and Green, and the blistered heart of Purple all represent. At the same time, Gold & Grey is very unique stylistically and stands apart from any previous Baroness release.
With this massive feeling album with seventeen tracks at over an hour run time, it’s not unlike a classic rock double album full of anthemic jams and introspective interlude moments like Physical Graffiti, The River, The White Album, The Wall, or hell, even Sign O’ The Times. Yes, that is heavy praise and company as some of the best albums ever written and made. Yes, Gold & Grey rightly belongs in that company. Uptempo jams like ‘Front Toward Enemy’ with its stabby guitar riffs and fast backbeat give the album a real liftoff. Following up from Purple, there are amazing vocal harmonies on nearly every track, with frontman John Baizley doubling himself and often gang vocals by the rest of the band that have a Queen-like quality to it. ‘Seasons’, one of the initial singles is also a bubbly fast, fun track. Complete with spinning licks and incredible drumming! Blastbeats, paradiddles, and gravity blasts, oh my! ‘Seasons’ is as epic as it sounds. Other songs in a similar vein are ‘Throw Me an Anchor’, ‘Broken Halo’, and ‘Borderlines’.
Really though, the power in this album is all of the quiet, but no less heavy moments. Exploring a depth and range the band has done in bits and pieces, now they are all in on laid back grooves, gentle harmonic interludes and choir-like haunted vocals. ‘I’m Already Gone, ‘Tourniquet’ (the first half), ‘Emmett-Radiating Light’, and ‘Pale Sun’ will reduce your legs to jelly and your face strewn with salty teared streaks. These songs are the soul of the album. It’s taken a wicked beating but still finds a way to inspire and smile through it all.
With guitars focusing on point and counterpoint and complicated licks, and less so on standard riff rock, a lot of the weight is carried by the gang vocals and the rhythm section of Sebastian Thomson on drums and Nick Jost on bass. The secret weapon here is Gina Gleason who has by no coincidence helped Baizley advance his vision for the band even further than before, with her incredible guitar work and great vocals. There is not a single song on this album to skip over and we would welcome them all to be performed live. And this is a band that can do it or anything they want it seems.
Baroness continues to grow beyond almost any band making music in a definable rock context today. Supremely talented, and limitless in crafting music that imprints itself on your heart. Without trying to top the previous album, they have yet again found new ways to express their art. Excuse me while I go to the dollar store for a new box of tissues, or ten.
9 / 10