Sound — 8
It was a cold, rainy night in southern England when Baroness' tour bus plunged 30 feet off a motorway viaduct. It was last summer, and the American sludge merchants were touring their fantastically ambitious double album "Yellow & Green" at the time. It left nine injured and two were rushed to hospital with serious injuries. The prompted vocalist John Baizley to write a poignant, gripping piece on the crash, his near-death experience and the greater forces which drive musicians to do what they do. Two of the band's four members left the band. Just a few weeks earlier, they had recorded four songs from "Yellow & Green" at the BBC's legendary Maida Vale Studios, where the late John Peel recorded bands including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and David Bowie. This little piece of history, which finally sees a proper vinyl release, is essential listening for the fanatical and the curious, but even newcomers will find the chemistry rather enthralling.
These are unlike the tapes Peel used to make with his favourite grindcore bands: sonic obliteration at 300 BPM which felt more like riots than sessions. Baroness' approach is rather more patient, laying down four tracks from last year's "Yellow & Green" album with the emphasis firmly on musicality. The context of the recording and the history of the building offer this a timelessness that eludes most metal bands, and besides, much of what Baroness do is informed by the softer side of rock. The hostile fuzz and gruff vocals on their studio albums conceal a time-learnt appreciation for indie, rock and pop songwriting. The rounded, bassy mix here allows those elements to shine. "The Line Between" is warmer as a live track, while "Cocainium" reimagines their sludge sound as '80s post-punk thickset, but aired out by gloomy, clean touches of guitar.
Lyrics — 8
The band's biggest improvement on "Yellow & Green" was in their lyrics, which took on a new anthemic quality without compromising the ornate language which embellished their verse. Peter Adams' backing vocals are enriching too, providing "Take My Bones Away" with its central hook and adding urgency at all the right moments, when lesser bands may succumb to what they perceive to be genre conventions. Note the relatively low gain across this EP, and the album its material comes from.
Overall Impression — 8
Forgetting the circumstances surrounding the period of time, Maida Vale sessions generally mark a high point for a rock 'n' roll band. This one captures Baroness at the top of their game, thunderously powerful but refreshingly soulful. They may feel they have a point to prove when they return to the UK in October, but they'll never sound better than live and British fans would do well to bear that in mind.