18th December 2015 – Abraxan Hymns
02. Shock me
03. Try to Disappear
06. Chlorine and Wine
07. The Iron Bell
08. Desperation Burns
09. If I had to wake up – would you stop the rain
10. Crossroads of Infinity
To the delight of Baroness megafans the world over, Purple is finally upon us. After waiting all year to screw with everyone’s carefully-planned end of year lists, they’ve dropped their most ambitious and best-crafted release to date, but not without wandering far from the path that gained them so many fans in the first place.
It is impossible to review this album without the context of the 2012 bus crash which hospitalised the band, leading to the departure of half their lineup and the eventual recruitment of Nick Jost and Sebastian Thompson. The accident is a defining point in their chronology, halting their progress whilst they recovered; since then they’ve been touring, but the only release we’ve had is the live Madia Vale sessions EP. This incident is dealt with extensively and nakedly on Purple.
From the track listing to the lyrical content to the choice of album colour, everything is much richer than it was on previous offerings. The key to all of this is the tension in the album; some of the most effective lyrics are straightforwardly violent (“in a battle/ you only brought your shield” from “Shock Me“) or complex, uncomfortable imagery (“one more taste of milk and gasoline” from ”If I Have to Wake up“). The rhythm section gallops and bounds through energetic sections, offsetting the more tender moments like the sombre “Fugue” and the synth parts which permeate the album. Baizely’s bellow has never sounded better, equally fitting on the furious “Morningstar” and the heartbreaking “If I Had To Wake Up“. This conflict unites the album, peaking with lead single “Chlorine & Wine“, which leaps between desperation and absolute triumph. With the possible exception of Yellow, this is their best-paced record to date; it is the sense of tension which, crucially, stops the album from meandering.
Prior to the accident, Baroness were riding high with Yellow & Green, their breakthrough double album which saw their earlier, more twinkly take on sludge condensed into well-crafted, economic songs. Many of these were solid party bangers like “March to the Sea” and not six-minute epics about complete physical devastation. Purple is an obvious contrast, but fans of the more concise material need not worry – this album is incredibly good fun. Baroness are stark about their trauma, but you are also invited to enjoy their triumph. Aside from the gorgeous synth swells, Baizely himself is a shining star but standout musician may be newcomer Sebastian Thompson, whose Mastodon-esque fills are colossal, every flourish rammed to the gills with muscle and absolute joy. Plus they’ve gone mad for solos and have written some of the best hooks of their career, particularly “Shock Me” and “Try To Disappear“.
Purple also feels very familiar, which helps not to alienate listeners during what can sometimes be a challenging listen. “Chlorine & Wine” makes direct reference to “Uncomfortably Numb” and the guitars sound more than a little bit Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. Dave Fridman has done sterling work at the production helm and his work with The Flaming Lips is evident, particularly from the curious robotic voice on “Crossroads of Infinity“. Baroness are pretty obviously rooted in classic influences, but they’ve carved out their own sound from their heroes; by acknowledging these influences and moving beyond them, they’ve masterfully dealt with the tension between stewing in long-overused ideas and communicating their grief and ecstasy through impenetrable introspection. Through this tension they have achieved excellent clarity of expression.
Purple is the perfect title to what is undeniably one of the strongest metal releases this year. Regal and rich and warm, this is Baroness’s finest outing and an absolute triumph in the face of adversity. They are right to be as excited as they so obviously are at the prospect of its release, as should we all be.