In light of Baroness’ upcoming show in Athens, I wanted to write up something. Initially the idea was for me to pretend to be Wikipedia and tell you the names of the guys, the names of the records and 2-3 colorful adjectives about each one and let you go back to YouTube and keep watching Jared Dines without admitting it to your friends. However, for better or for worse I had some energy in me, so dwelling on the case of this very highly qualified band I wanted to say a few words about the place of psychedelic intellectualism in metal.
The original Baroness lineup grew up in Savannah, Georgia, though many changes have been made with mastermind guitarist and vocalist John Baizley being the only remaining original member, who also designs their album covers. In their 16 year career they have released 5 full length albums and some very noteworthy EPs at the beginning, with all the records having the names of the colors that predominate in their respective cover art, turning the titles’ intentions into aesthetics beyond a literal sense. All done with the obligatory stuff.
What is Baroness’ style? Unique in many ways, an amalgam of fuzzy stoner guitar sounds, riffs ranging from blues to groove to psychedelic or post metal. Throughout the career of the band they have relied on simple principles that make their audience aware of the seriousness of the condition they are in when pressing play. The idea is straightforward:
Rhythms and melodies with vast depth but without pretense and intellectual tendencies, intelligent aesthetic complexity combined with monolithic sensuality. Great attention to the layering of the tracks and the sonic texture beyond the song structure. Lyrics where the placement and selection of words elicits more expressive power than their length. Does all this ring a bell? It becomes fairly obvious that if we removed the name ‘Baroness’, these characteristics would describe a series of bands that, despite their rather varied and distinct sound, carry the same attitude. Mastodon, ISIS, Kylessa, Clutch, Neurosis, The Ocean, Intronaut and the list goes on.
Especially with their latest releases Purple (2015) and Gold & Gray (2019), the protagonists of this article have done something remarkable in the author’s opoinion. They have bridged a difficult gap – as the gatekeepers will rarely admit – between heavy music and “high art”. To be clear, such walls are not appreciated by me and are in my humble opinion militant social constructs rather than artistic boundaries but nevertheless, it is not useful to pretend that they don’t exist at least in some form. I don’t even know if it was their intention to make such a leap, but often in these cases it’s not. Their pure intentions for something expressively complex with the emotional disposition provided by the psychedelic tradition and the weight of metal music has not only moved heterogeneous audiences, but also set a new standard in a direction we did not even expect to observe.
As these guys evolve into a spectacularly successful blend of all the stylistic elements of their influences, and despite the dismal injustice done by Gold & Gray’s production to their compositions, the movement that they are flagbearers for along with Mastodon, is now shifting from alternative to classic towards the upcoming third decade of the 2000s. In 2015 they were nominated for a Grammy and despite our issues with the big award institutions as indicators of artistic quality, the fact served as proof of recognition from the mainstream, which brings to the forefront some of the best elements metal has to offer. With such high sexpectation a, it is worth speculating on what direction the bands of the future will take in their quest to win the battle of the exploration of human psychology through a metal composer’s perspective.