Gold & Grey represents the end of Baroness' color-schemed album titles, preceded by Red Album, Blue Record, Yellow & Green, and Purple. The now-Philadelphia-based quartet have been through major changes, from magazine covers and award nominations to a horrific life-threatening bus crash that caused the original rhythm section to leave, and the 2018 departure of founding guitarist Peter Adams, vocalist/guitarist John Baizley is the only original member. Bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson were on board for Purple, but new guitarist/backing vocalist Gina Gleason (Santana, Smashing Pumpkins) makes her studio debut with Baroness here. While not quite the sprawling double-length exercise that Yellow & Green was, the Dave Fridmann-produced Gold & Grey, with its wildly diverse 17 tracks, is only ten minutes shorter, and is as labyrinthine as it is sprawling in ambition. Baroness have freely indulged in experimental songwriting, arranging, and studio experimentation before, but not to the degree displayed here. Everything, from continuously evolving, shapeshifting songwriting to a truly noisy mix and an ever-more-wide-angled juxtaposition of genres and styles, reflects aesthetic adventurousness. While there is metal riffing here -- especially in the set's second half -- it is merely an element in this kaleidoscopic rainbow of sounds, textures, and dynamics.
Opener "Front Toward Enemy," with its bass-throbbing heavy fuzz, may recall the band's earliest days, but the gorgeous layered vocal harmonies offset the aggression. "I'm Already Gone" offers the first taste of a real stylistic shift displaying an unmistakable admiration for the Cure's Pornography in its melodic and vocal lines. Some tracks serve as intros/interludes. Baroness have played with them in the past but never to the fully fleshed extent they do here. They range from gentle piano themes in "Sevens" to evocations of noisy, 21st century Krautrock on "Can Obscura." "Tourniquet" opens with a direct nod to Big Star's Third before changing directions toward a midtempo slammer. Loopy, acid-drenched psychedelia emerges on "I'd Do Anything," and "Assault on East Falls." While "Throw Me an Anchor" is an anthemic prog metal jam, "Emmett: Radiating Light," is a halting acoustic number with bells, a processional upright piano, and intricately layered vocal harmonies between Baizley and Gleason that deliver dazzling results. While "Borderlines" nods at Kyuss' desert rock, closer "Pale Suns" crisscrosses near-Baroque vocal harmonies with brooding sludge, King Crimson-esque prog, and squalling post-metal à la mid-period Killing Joke. In lesser hands, this wild, unruly amalgam of musical and playing styles and songwriting would result in a mess -- Baroness themselves couldn't pull it off on Yellow & Green. But here, thanks to maturity, Fridmann's mix, and uncanny sequencing, every song fits seamlessly inside each proceeding one, delivering a mercurial yet satisfying whole that makes Gold & Grey the band's finest outing to date, if not their masterpiece.