Baroness

Purple

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A bus accident in 2012 permanently altered reality for Baroness. While on tour to promote the just-released Yellow & Green, they crashed through a guardrail in heavy rain and fell 30 feet. Though all the members survived, drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni each suffered fractured vertebrae and ultimately left the group. Frontman/guitarist John Baizley (who spent months in recovery) and guitarist Pete Adams enlisted drummer Sebastian Thomson (Trans Am) and jazz bassist Nick Jost (who also handles keyboards) as their new rhythm section. Purple was produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney) and issued on the band's Abraxan Hymns label. Baroness' penchant for using colors as album titles is apt here: Purple denotes both bruising and healing. Musically, this is an energetic (at times anthemic) hard rock album whose songs are drenched in hooks, soaring vocals, and vibrant singalong choruses; they're scored for blistering twin guitars, a forceful, inventive rhythm section, and a boatload of sonic atmospheres. Throughout, influential references seemingly emerge at once: Mastodon, Wishbone Ash, the Obsessed, early Queen, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Metallica, etc. Fridmann is an equal collaborator: His creatively textured palette is dynamic and sprawling. Baizley's lyrics continually reference the aftermath of trauma but never weigh down the songs. The first four tracks -- "Morningstar," "Shock Me," "Try to Disappear" and "Kerosene" -- are stone killers. Each contains a brief, speculative intro that gives way to a full-tilt rocker. Tightly written verses/chorus/verse/bridge structures are accompanied by massive riffing and biting, kinetic instrumental breaks. The spacious atmospherics that introduce "Chlorine & Wine" ring and sway before the drum kit, bassline, and dual guitars start cranking through riffs answered by thunder cracking fills. The twin lead guitar break here is the best one on the record. Like "Kerosene" on the first half, "The Iron Bell" and "Desperation Burns" are heavy, hard-hitting metallic jams with vast sound palettes that never minimize the attack factor. There are two things that each of these tracks share: the first is Baizley's expressive vocal (remarkable given his limited range). The second is that they all seem to wed the heaviness of 2007's Red Album to the finest melodic hooks from Yellow & Green. The instrumental "Fugue" is painted with billowing ambient sonics, serpentine leads, and electric piano, all guided by a nocturnal snare and hi-hat groove. The melancholy power ballad "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain?)" pairs the Gothic longing of the Cure's Robert Smith with the progressive rock of Porcupine Tree, and strains through Baroness' signature crunch in a striking finish. Though not as "experimental" as their previous couple of records, as a whole Purple is far more focused, and it's certainly more euphoric. Surviving a close brush with death resulted in a celebratory affirmation of life that equates physical bombast and rockist swagger with woozy, dreamy, rainbow-streaked beauty.

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