Review Summary: Turn to stone, when ya comin' homeStone
marks a fresh start for Baroness. Specifically, it heralds an in-house production job promising more punch and sonic definition after two albums marred by overly-compressed, overdriven timbral clutter, and a break from the color-coded album titles stretching from their 2007 debut Red Album
to their divisive 2019 double-LP Gold & Grey
. Though much of this album does, as a matter of fact, find the band reassessing what a new Baroness album means as they round the two-decade mark, just as much finds them as firmly and comfortably in their wheelhouse as ever. There's the scantily-clad women wreathed in flora and fauna on the cover, there's those angular downtuned riffs and throaty hollered hooks on lead single "Last Word", there's, for the first time, the very same lineup of musicians that delivered the album prior. So maybe the more appropriate angle is Baroness, revamped: a band less concerned with charting virgin sonic territory than integrating a steady drip of novelty into a pocket they've already spent years establishing for themselves.
Nervy, intricate performances by drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist Nick Jost are Stone
's ace in the hole, as on "Last Word"'s urgent chorus or "Choir"'s crisp motorik groove. The duo are the foremost benefactors of the mix's increased clarity, finally able to fully shine as what may well be the most purely talented rhythm section Baroness has had yet, capable of elevating moments of blunt hard rock and more pensive ambience alike with playing that's busy and involved while remaining in service of the overall song. John Baizely's trademark bellow shows up in quite fine form across the album too, most notably on "Magnolia" and in the back half of "Under the Wheel". Though mileage will doubtless continue to vary re: his tries at more measured crooning (hey, remember "Steel that Sleeps the Eye"?) and spoken word (hey, remember "O'er Hell and Hide"?), he remains magnetic enough as a performer to act as Stone
's raw, beating heart; "Magnolia" in particular features some of his fiercest vocal work in years, made all the more satisfying by the way it bursts forth from the track's initial tranquility.
Also back from the early days: nonsense lyrics! If you're a stickler for fully cogent uses of terms such as "anodyne" and "oubliette", turn back now. Not that Baizely doesn't still manage a few genuinely interesting couplets— we are drowning in paradise, I guess we'll need a deeper gutter / a higher levee, to slow this tide
gets my vote for hardest hit in the feels, and the album's spackling of resigned glances at deaths and setting suns gives it a simple-but-welcome throughline of making peace with yourself and your limits as you age. Overall, though, the "rule of cool" is once more at the forefront, with flaming arrows and molten-wax teeth populating the album's poetry largely on the strength of the isolated images they conjure. Point is, words serve melody and rhythm more often than metaphor here, and especially given the cheesetastically heartsome emphasis placed on a select few unfortunate lines (better late than forever?) it can be a tough sell at a few points. Keep the ol' focus on those guitars and that drumming, though, and you'll be as happy a camper as I!
But also: newness! Though they’re both literally and figuratively a very different band then they were in 2010, Baroness’s first two albums of vein-bursting progressive sludge metal still loom large over their discography, and for as gamely as Stone
keeps its debt to those albums on its most straightforward rockers, it's at its most refreshing when it manages to get a bit of distance from the band's usual approach. This novelty is, appropriately, centralized around the band's newest member, guitarist and vocalist Gina Gleason. You want a searing technical showcase? Look no further than her gnarly solo bisecting "Last Word", a bracing "WOW" moment from an act typically reluctant to stray from full-band cohesion. You want elaboration on their perennially-underestimated soft side? Closer "Bloom" may just be their finest all-acoustic hour yet, awash in warm pastoral arpeggios that perfectly match the weary return-to-the-hearth of the lyrics. Gleason's singing leads the way with a gentle flexibility that Baizely, for all his strengths as a frontman, has never quite managed; I certainly won't be complaining if she gets more opportunities to take center stage vocally in the future. You want, um… a Deftones song, for some reason? "Under the Wheel"'s queasy melody, undulating chugs, and synth-assisted dissonant outro have all the makings to win hearts amongst the alt-metal set. Sure, not every idea totally pans out– "Beneath the Rose"'s blend of spoken verses and belted choruses scans as less seamless than the band seemingly presumes, and "Anodyne" doesn't exactly do a whole lot of anything– but the new directions explored here ring overall much more decisive than on the psychedelic haze of Gold and Grey
For all its proofs that the band does in fact have musical avenues yet to be exhausted of potential, Stone
ultimately still strikes me as an album for the fans. The band (and mix) sounds healthy and reinvigorated, the tracklist covers a fair range of sounds, and at the end of the day, it's still every inch a Baroness album. We have nowhere left to run
, after all. So don't call it a comeback— this album succeeds by returning the band to the places they've always been, experimenting from the comfort of the music they know best and with a welcome upgrade in fidelity and focus to boot. It's no flawless triumph, and as a long time superfan myself, I can't give anything close to an objective worth-your-time-or-not. All I can say is that it feels good to be home.