Baroness, Blue Record
Metal outsiders' sophomore effort is meant to be swallowed whole and played LOUD
First things first: The sophomore outing from Georgia metal band Baroness is called The Blue Record. That appellation is important: Its 12 songs are meant to be swallowed whole; musical themes are repeated, inverted and reinterpreted, snatches of lyrics appear again and again over the course of several songs and every note of every song feels more the work of deliberate design than haphazard jamming.
All of this would be a recipe for bloat, but Baroness's roots are in hardcore, not prog, so The Blue Record's grand ambitions are leavened with a healthy punk snarl. They're self-confessed metal outsiders — as is producer John Congleton, whose resume includes St. Vincent's Actor as well as albums by the Mountain Goats and Okkervil River. Don't think Armored Saint, think Hot Snakes with more compositional flair. The songs are packed with an astonishing level of detail: hairpin turns, methodically arranged subsections, surgically precise tempo changes and guitar leads that require an almost supernatural dexterity (How many 32nd notes can two men play?). Witness the apocalyptically named "A Horse Called Golgotha," how it goes from blistering riffage to hammering punk rock to full-gallop hard rock — all within the first minute. Jaw-dropping dynamo "Jake Leg" is composed of no fewer than four distinct passages, but it moves so quickly and so fluidly its complexity almost escapes perception. Its single central riff — a call-and-response between Baizley and the group's other guitarist, Peter Adams — corkscrews its way angrily up the song's center, sounding nastier every time it appears — at different tempos, in different key signatures, with different effects. Baroness pulls off a cunning feat, reverse-engineering hardcore and gilding its raw brutality with alarmingly elegant guitar solos.
Frontman John Baizley hollers every line as if he's barking orders to a battalion that's running to escape gunfire. His concerns are largely apocalyptic — indeed, The Blue Record often feels like you're watching the end of the world unfold in real-time. "The stained horizon, ablaze with revolvers," he howls in "Golgotha"; just a few songs later he's swearing, "We are graves/ We will die" as guitars thunderclap behind him. Baizley — a graphic artist who also designs the group's gorgeous album covers — is ferocious, a man bellowing from inside the eye of a hurricane.
The Blue Record becomes denser and more difficult as it progresses, the full-speed charge of its first half eventually giving way to roiling, stubborn songwriting. It ends with the same instrumental passage with which it began, a well mapped, expertly plotted circle — the end is the beginning, round like a record.