Baroness ‘Purple’ Review: Band reemerge three years after a harrowing bus crash, renewed with a razor-sharp focus.
The injuries took their toll: drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni exited the band due to cracked vertebrae. And while frontman/guitarist John Baizley and guitarist Peter Adams vowed to continue, they had some seriously grueling rehab to endure.
That healing process is palpable on their new album Purple. All Baroness albums have been color based, but Purple is nakedly pointed: bruises, both physical and psychological are felt throughout the album. But make no mistake: this is no dismal slog.
Adams stated in a press release that We didn’t want to make a mellow, sad, dark thing, Adams says. We needed to be up-tempo. We needed to be melodic, and it also needed to be aggressive…I think we were able to get out everything we felt…from being angry to wanting to continue to push forward. And that’s the immediate takeaway from the album: it’s as life affirming a metal album as any in recent memory.
Much like Yellow and Green, Purple shows the band’s evolution from trad-metal to embracing elements of alternative and classic rock. And the new rhythm section of Nick Jost (bass, keyboards) and former Trans Am drummer Sebastian Thomson adds new depth and range to their already formidable musicianship.
Adding another new wrinkle is their choice of producer: Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips), who gives their sound more sonic expanse than ever before.
Shock Me is a fine indicator of the subtle shifts the band now incorporate: featuring celestial 80’s synths, rollicking rhythms and churning guitars, it’s both battering and cathartic, with Baizley’s wailing vocals embracing all aspects of his physical and emotional ordeal: Shock me, I needed a surprise!
Purple doesn’t lack for heaviness: Kerosene soars from start to finish, from its hard charging verses to its uplifting chorus, while opener Morningstar veers from Brian May-esque multitracked guitar squalls to Mastodon-tendriled riffage.
But its’ the tender tracks that cut the deepest: the CCR referencing ballad If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain) is a beauty, featuring tinges of Goth and prog, building into an ethereal climax.
And Chlorine and Wine, the lead single, is the true showstopper, encompassing all of their strengths, from a delicately intricate Pink Floyd-ish opening passage to a crushing anthemic chorus-with Baizley documenting his recovery in harrowing detail: When I called on my nursemaid/Come sit by my side/But she cuts through my ribcage/And pushes the pills deep in my eyes.
His move towards more melodic vocals remain a work in progress, but a marked improvement from the growing pains of Yellow and Green. And chops-wise one would never know the hours of rehab it took for he and Adams to regain their guitar wizardry. They haven’t lost a step.
At only 10 tracks (one of which, Crossroads to Infinity, is a blink and you’ll miss it album closer), Purple is a much more economical album than its predecessor. But it doesn’t lack for scope. Where Baroness goes next is anyone’s guess, but if they can bounce back from trauma with something this strong, they seem unstoppable.