Review Summary: Baroness show with their first record that they very well know how to rock - and mix things up a bit.
Baroness have been a band since at least 2003, and their debut record for Relapse Records is simply titled the Red Album. Don’t let the simple name fool you, however, as the Red Album is an enthralling record filled with somewhat technical instrumentation, unusual usage of effects, ambient moments, and hard rocking sludge.
The record starts out with Rays on Pinion, a seven-minute long hard rocker which makes one just want to sing along to John Dyer Baizley’s bigfoot-esque wails, as he shouts “RAYS ON PINION.” What are rays on pinion? No idea, here, but Mr. Baizley (no relation to yours truly) can certainly rock them.
Following Rays on Pinion, many tracks standout as works of art: “Wailing Wintry Wind” (track four) is the first of the lot and starts off with some ambience which leads into a light intro that is rather comparable to “Call of Ktulu” by Metallica, each note picked with the upmost precision. One can almost feel the wintry wind so described by Baizley’s barks. “Feel the wail of winter wind”, he barks to the doubtless baffled audience, unsure of whether they’re in a nice warm home or in the midst of a wintry storm. As the fierce guitar hits in a manner similar to being smacked across the face by an angry mother in law (if you’ve had one, you will sympathize), Baizley barks to the audience “See inside till you find me blindly” in a rather epic manner. You know then that you’re about to experience a musical journey through the depths of time and space.
After the short and acoustic “Cockroach En Fleur” (track five), the single and music video track “Wanderlust” (track six) starts up. Possessing the Southern and mystical punch of anything by the Southern masters in Mastodon, Wanderlust is an powerful number, a song that, if the world were the least bit just to music, would make Baroness one of the largest bands in the world. Again, the track is carried by Baizley’s trademark vocals over the insane chord changes and tone changes, ranging from heavy metal to Neurosis-inspired sludge with the usual Southern twist prevalent in this modern scene. In the track, we have more of the occasional ambience which Baroness has immersed themselves in and honed over the previous years. Towards the end, Baizley’s epic bigfoot roars make a return, leading to the return to ambience. C’est la vie, in the Baroness world.
As for this reviewer’s number one pick of the record, track number seven is the definitive standout. Titled “Aleph,” the track summarizes all of the elements of the prior tracks, with some added twists made to conjure images of the finest thrash metal bands. While slow to build, as is the common pattern thus far, and filled with early melancholy, there is a sense of coming greatness. The guitar patterns are rather intriguing in this one, balancing multiple speeds and guitar techniques. The vocals only kick in when the track is about 3/5 finished, and even then the focus is on the instruments. The mysterious sound prevails throughout, and immerses the listener quite easily.
Of course, no record is perfect: common complaints are that the drums are rather stale and unvaried. While disagreeable to those of us knowledgeable to the ways of the drummer, your average listener may be more focused on the other instruments. Leave it to the drummer to be under-recognized by the media. Luckily, in subsequent efforts, the drummer becomes a standout by any means, with more varied tones and sticking out in the mix.
Another problem is that often times the bass seems rather underwhelming. The bassist of Baroness is excellent, but the bass guitar appears to be rather low in the mix. Even when listening to a 320kbps rip or the CD, the bassist is harder to follow than anybody. Bloody shame, that, as the baselines are really good – when you can hear them.
Then there’s the standard 12 minute hidden track. In the internet age, hidden tracks are no longer hidden. Not only are they not hidden, but they’re just tend to lack a point most of the time. Even throwing in a full song seems asinine when it could have just been a part of the album itself. That being said, a 12 minute “hidden” track doesn’t take away anything from the album. It can be overlooked, or listened to if it’s worth sitting through the countless minutes of silence to get to the short riffs near the end.
Baroness debut record showcases a sludge metal band who have found their niche in a market which has already shown signs of over-saturation common to any genre given the time of day on the radio or amongst music critics. Baroness are seemingly just some friends in a band doing what they do, and they do it well. This is surely one of the most promising debuts amongst any heavy metal band in the 2000s.