It we have learned anything from the current events in the world right now, we know that life is precious. In our own little worlds we drone away at work, at our passions, and our daily escapes. It can all go away in an instant. We all feel the pain of loss, but we can all rise again. The pendulum can sway either way for us. And when we feel those little pins of excitement, ones that quicken our pulses, that make the hairs on the back of your next stiffen, even the ones that hurt your heart; we need to cling to them, fiercely as we can. Baroness is a great example of bleeding triumph from pain, and their new album Purple (Abraxan Hymns) is as much a testament to being alive as any piece of music I have heard in a long time.
Back in 2011, I hadn’t thought it was possible for the band to top the sprawling double album Yellow And Green (Relapse). It represented both sides of what the band could be: Sabbath-ian heaviness with a late-era Led Zeppelin variety. It felt huge and it didn’t change what they were or or how fans felt about them either. Then came the well documented bus accident that almost took their lives, and everything changed. And just like in other tragedies, we focus on the chaos of the moment, our emotions ebbing towards the familiar. Yes, the accident was horrible and the relief in the entire music community was thick enough to taste. However, equally arduous was the band finding their way back to mental and physical health, and at last the victory of touring again. I don’t know if any of this played into the craft that went into making Purple, but then how could it not? A life changing event surely can reshape your art, as it must have for John Baizley in particular. Even though Purple is a Baroness album to its very bones, if feels like a new sounding band at times. This is music born of suffering, but one conveying strength of will through tears.
From the first notes of ‘Morningstar’, you get a sense that this album is going to be different, and you would be right. Inspiring heavy rock with giant sweeping choruses have been common for this band, but now they are doing it on a much grander scope. Part of it must be the comfort level Baizley has with guitarist Pete Adams; the musical ninja assassin to John’s zen master. They play off each other perfectly vocally and guitar-wise. ‘Shock Me’ starts with pastoral keys from bassist Nick Jost, but gives way to bombastic jamminess. Just a tremendous cut in scope and energy. Sebastian Thomson’s perfect drumming propels the track. Baizley finally has the players to match him and to help him realize his great vision.
‘Try To Disappear’ and ‘Kerosene’ are both straight out amazing, each could vie for the best song here. Heavy without trying to be super heavy, ‘Kerosene’ features Robert Fripp influenced guitar work and glorious twin-harmony lead vocals throughout. Jost’s bass playing is melodious and tight here and all over the album. The last minute or so of the song is transcendent.
‘Fugue’ is a transition piece, one that is a ties back to early albums like First, Second or Red. ‘Chlorine & Wine’ follows and was the first single, and it has a bit of a space rock thing going on. That intro alone will make you well up with tears that reminded me of Pelican or Rosetta’s best moments, although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. If you obsess over great guitar work like I do, this track has the kitchen sink of effects on it. They are all done in a tasteful way, not at all schlocky.
I am not sure any band can blend the musicianship of Pink Floyd with the soul inferno of Thin Lizzy the way ‘The Iron Bell’ came out, but damn it if they didn’t achieve just that. ‘Desperation Burns’ is the heaviest track on the album, coming on with a chopping riff and great lyrical depth. If you were a fan from the very beginning of this band, this song will give you all the feels. This is also one of the many songs where the new rhythm section of Jost and Thomson just crushes it. Right out of the Blue playbook, it’s great to see artists pulling back to what made them great, but then demonstrating growth.
‘If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)’ reminds me a bit of the chill moments from Yellow. The interplay of keys, bass and guitars over a shuffle beat from Thomson with mostly a solo vocal from Baizley will get you where you live. The chiming notes in the chorus will send you over the moon. The final track is a little transmission of sorts, that sounds like what I hope to hear before the aliens attack and vaporize the Earth once and for all. Ok, that one is just for me, make of that what you will. Producer Dave Fridmann’s masterful work is all over Purple and should not be understated in its importance.
Like most albums in their career, there is no filler on this album. More so, there are no flaws either. Every part written for a purpose, every strum and riff, every beat, every plucked bass string right in its perfect place, all meant to give birth to a masterpiece. Prog without being classically progressive, old-school in spirit, but with a modern touch: the heart of Baroness lives in a dichotomy of what makes them great and they redefine their genre with each new album.
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