Purple review by Baroness

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  • Released: Dec 18, 2015
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.1 (63 votes)
Baroness: Purple
5

Sound — 8
With a gruff stoner metal backbone and a penchant for dual guitar melodies, Baroness came off like a cross between Mastodon and Thin Lizzy when they released their well-lauded 2007 debut, "Red Album." Not only continuing the momentum shortly after, their follow-up album, 2009's "Blue Record" would set the bar for the band even higher - not to mention that the band got to support Metallica on tour soon after, which is the metal equivalent of being blessed by the pope.

At that point, Baroness had become one of the hot new metal bands to pay attention to, but they would still attempt to outdo themselves in their aspiring third double-album, "Yellow & Green," which elaborated more on the band's softer, dreamy side - with more clean singing (as opposed to frontman John Baizley's bellowing vocal style of before) and more spatial, psychedelic-inspired guitar composition. Its different direction, as well as its arguably bloated size, had its share of criticism (making it the least unequivocally praised album in Baroness' catalog thus far), but it still made it onto at least one "best of" albums list in 2012; a steady pattern for all of the band's dependably laudable material.

Now on their fourth album, "Purple," Baroness are set on evening out their energy levels between their heavy, classic characteristics and their lighter characteristics newly discovered in their previous album. The biggest strategy to finding this happy medium is a merging of sonic techniques in their repertoire, not only intertwining the old with the new (like the scratchy strumming techniques that were frequented in "Red Album" handing the baton off to chiming synth arpeggios in "Try to Disappear"), but displaying nice dynamic shifts (like the tradeoff from watery, leslie-effected guitar plucks to a more active pull-off riff in the second verse of "Desperation Burns," and the groovy retro fuzz guitar riff that parlays into a more noisy and jarring riff in the bridge of "The Iron Bell").

But in its full span, "Purple" isn't just focused on intertwining energies, but also guiding a path of energy that ebbs and flows between driving and delicate. Baroness opt to start the album off with a bang (likely an attempt to bring back their old bite that was considerably lacking in "Yellow & Green"), but even though "Morningstar" and "Shock Me" are more menacing that most of the songs in the previous album, they also come off like blatant rehashing of old material - the former sounding like a general triplet-rhythmed cut from "Blue Record," and the latter sounding almost exactly like the "Yellow & Green" song "March Into the Sea," from its stampeding verse riffs to the dual-guitar bridge melody. The band do a better job crafting the mellow sections by comparison - not only showing off skilled but contained performances (like the 7/4 tapping melodies in the chorus of "Kerosene," which sound similar to the 7/4 tapping melody of Thrice's "Between the End and Where We Lie"), but keeping things fresh by making synthesizers a key ingredient (heard in the psychedelic interlude of "Fugue," and the ambient soundscape in the opening of "Chlorine & Wine"), and a penchant for extended, oddly-split measurements and spaced progressions (the chorus of "Shock Me" checks in at 25/4 and 24/4 with a 3 count in between; the measurement of "Chlorine & Wine" flows in 21/4 and 30/4; the chorus of "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)" runs in 28/4 and 24/4) serve as a compositional motif that aids the conceptual undertones of the album.

Lyrics — 8
At the start, Baizley was quite laconic as a lyricist for Baroness, and it wasn't until "Yellow & Green" that there was a noticeable advancement in the band's lyrical department. Baizley takes his growing lyrical muscles even further in "Purple," which, though still drawing from the same well of symbolism and imagery, he paves a conceptual pathway that he's never done in previous albums. With the story beginning with two people fighting in a war together (in the war omen exposition of "Morningstar" and "Shock Me"), the main character tries to follow his friend who goes AWOL (in "Try to Disappear"), who soon injures himself in his pursuit (likely on purpose, as the surrendering inflection of "Kerosene" would lead on), and then reunites with his friend as he wakes up in a hospital (in "Chlorine & Wine"), where they slowly continue to run away, lingering between life and death in the final stretch of the album.

More than just telling a story from front to back, Baizley evokes a number of narrative tricks throughout the album. He wields callbacks (like his begging for a twist of fate in "Shock Me" ("Shock me / I needed a surprise") that turns into a self-aware mocking of his wish coming true in "Desperation Burns" ("Hate to say we've had better days / Took me by surprise"), as well as juxtaposition (like the chorus of "Kerosene" ("Drown my love in kerosene / And In the final hour / Acids turn my heart to water"), where the self-immolating symbolism doesn't burn his emotions away, but rather, turns them into a form unscathed by his own ruination), but the most noteworthy device in this concept is the theme of terminality. The main character's perspective towards death oscillates at several different points - starting from his soldier's dread in the beginning of the album (where the line "Can you lay me down / And find someone / To carry the world" in "Morningstar" communicates his unwillingness to do his duty, rather wanting to lounge and not risk his life), to his begrudging oath to kill and bury his friend for ditching the war in "Try to Disappear" ("I will bury your bones inside my garden"), to his recovery and begging for survival after his near-death experience in "Chlorine & Wine" ("Don't lay me down / Under the rocks where I found / My place in the ground"), to his ambivalent but peaceful fatalism with his compatriot in "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)" ("If I have to go down / Let me fall to you").

Overall Impression — 9
Taking a calculated risk that yielded some faults, "Yellow & Green" was a necessary growing effort by Baroness via branching out in a different sonic direction. But from the lessons (both good and bad) that were learned in that album, Baroness launch themselves from that stepping stone into a higher level than ever before in "Purple." Along with fortifying, diversifying, and improving the flow of their sound and songwriting, "Purple" achieves even stronger artistic resonance with Baizley getting a firm grip on conceptual lyric writing. Even in spite of the high expectations they've set themselves with their earlier work, in nearly every way, "Purple" shows Baroness topping themselves.

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Mikethespud
    Songs are great, but the mixing lets it down. Surprised the review didn't mention that.
    Mahoru
    Agree. The music itself is pretty damn good, definitely an improvement after Y&G, but the mix is downright awful, one of the worst I've heard this year, and it definitely makes it harder for me to enjoy it.
    jimmy-moto
    Which instruments/sounds are too loud or quiet?
    Mahoru
    The guitars are loud as hell, to the point of clipping all throughout the album, and drums are super compressed. It reminds me of Fallujah's "The Flesh Prevails", another example of a very good album dragged down by a terrible mastering/mixing job.
    albravo
    Almost every single snare stroke clips as well. It's a shame specially since Sebastian Thomson wrote some of the best drum lines in Baroness' career...
    travislausch
    Even though it came out ages ago, it's my first time hearing "Chlorine And Wine", and... holy shit. That was powerful.
    cemerson2012
    This record is phenomenal from start to finish. The record sounds a little over compressed in some areas but that doesnt take anything away from it. This is like sludgy Pink Floyd, I love it.
    0h1p0
    I wasn't familiar with this band before UG started posting news about "papa het" and them. But the album cover art of this album was so striking and beautiful that i just had to check them out. I listened through Yellow & green on spotify a few times and i absolutely loved it! I ended up getting Purple on vinyl because the cover art is just so damn striking and i love the music aswell. Chlorine and wine is my favorite song so far.
    jgsb2001
    Same here...I remember hearing about them before but I never gave them a chance until James listed Baroness' album as one he's excited about hearing. I have had Yellow and Green as well as Purple in full rotation the last week or so.
    derkym
    John Baizley does the artwork for all of their albums himself, truly a renaissance man! If you like his style check out his website, he sells his art for a reasonable price. My quick baroness introduction (if anyone cares) was at a Mastodon concert. I had never heard of Baroness or Between the Buried and Me, and they both DESTROYED and I became a instant fan of both bands (sadly Mastodon were drunk/sloppy and put on a disappointing show).
    Flying Afros
    Yes, the mix is a little loud. Only negative thing I have to say about the album. I had a shit-eating grin on my face the moment the record started.While Y&G has grown on me, I didn't love it at first listen. This, however, crushed from the start.
    myap0calypse99
    This album is refreshing, direct, and powerful. Once you notice and appreciate the different nuances these songs have to offer individually, the album turns into a huge pleasure. Yes, the production isn't great but it's not a deal breaker either. At first I was bummed out by the length of the record and the lack of style change, but like I said earlier, once you get to know the songs better this problem dissolves. The end track "If I Have To Wake Up" is so unique and powerful. I'd give this album a 9/10.
    a drummer
    I'm a bit surprised by the mixing comments. I think it's just a preference for them, it gives a raw vibe to their sound and they tend to have more of a Lo-Fi sound over the modern production qualities of today. Listen to the Blue Album, very similar production. (which is awesome, Blue was a 10/10 for me) As for the music, i'm a bit disappointed but it's still fresh and growing. I was hoping for more of a departure from Y/G and a return to their heavier sound. But aside from Morningstar, it's very much like the yellow and green records. Though, I'm sure it'll grow on me
    damillion
    Listening to these tracks it sounds great. I've been really bored with the records of 2015 and this was the fix I needed.
    Stratcat70
    Material is great, but the loudness and over compression make it tough for me to listen to. It sounds like crap on my phone, and even worse in my car. WTF is wrong with production these days?? Why do the 'experts' think this how to mix and album??
    godhelpus
    Baroness albums always have one or two alright tracks and then just boring shit. I'll check this out with open ears.
    derkym
    At least you are checking it out with open ears. Baroness may not be your cup of tea but thanks for giving it a shot! Looking at your favorite bands I personally think about 95% are just boring shit so that just shows music is a matter of taste (P-funk saves you IMO ).
    Iommianity
    The only thing you demonstrated is that you took his opinion of Baroness as a personal challenge and decided to see if their taste was up to snuff, under the guise of "something something opinions".
    derkym
    Correct, very astute observation although I never take these things personally. I was simply curious what music he/she was into if they consider most of Baroness "boring shit". Please don't take this as a challenge and rock on good sir.
    grind
    Agreed... baroness is boring. I saw them live at a Meshuggah show so maybe it was because they were sandwiched between Decapitated (opener) and Meshuggah, two extremely abrasive groups. Anyways-their live show was bland, uninspired, and weak. I have tried to get into them on multiple occasions through listening to their songs online but I don't think they're timeless or great like people seem to think. I definitely think their guitars are, as the one guitarist says, "triumphant," and there's a lot of really cool riffs and I have no doubt that what the reviewer said about "meaningful lyrics" is true. It feels like singer-songwriter music on steroids. I don't like the drums or bass, at all. In my opinion the drums and bass don't contribute to the music. I would compare this band to The Sword or Kylesa, where there's pretty much one-dimensional straightforward rock and roll. In a more perfect world, they would play Baroness and Mastodon on the radio instead of Shinedown and Three Days Grace.
    quikslvr223
    I feel like this album is a perfect balance between Baroness' heavier music of the past and the wide-open spaciness of Yellow & Green. So many powerful choruses on this record, every song has something great it brings to the record, with 'If I Had to Wake Up' really being the best track on the album, not to mention being emotional as all hell.
    canadabassist
    "[Baizely] paves a conceptual pathway that he's never done in previous albums." Incorrect. The "Yellow" side of "Yellow & Green" follows a more-or-less clear narrative from start to finish. It's about a drug addict who promises to get clean after his friend dies of a heroin overdose, but falls off the wagon and is eventually driven to suicide by the guilt. So, this is just the second time Baroness has done this sort of thing. Thanks for pointing that out though, I seriously hadn't even noticed that "Purple" did that until I read this review.
    Dolores12
    [deleted]
    Dolores12 · Jan 10, 2016 01:15 AM
    sophos24
    seems like this was the first time a lot of commenters ever heard a dave fridmann record