Baroness - Stone review
|Release date:||September 2023|
02. Last Word
03. Beneath The Rose
05. The Dirge
09. Under The Wheel
Attention for this new Baroness album has unsurprisingly been directed towards the band’s departure from using colours as album titles; however, the artwork for Stone, which features every colour that’s appeared on a Baroness cover, indicates that this new release, while perhaps breaking new ground, also recalls the various phases of the band’s career to date.
It’s not completely alien for Baroness to alter a naming theme; the iconic colour-based naming scheme itself was only adopted after a duo of EPs titled First and Second. However, it’s the first of those colour albums, the handily titled Red Album, that really put the band on the map, with their sludge-lite sound that exhibited hallmarks of fellow Georgia natives Mastodon. After one more record in a similar vein, Blue Record, the band underwent changes, both in personnel and sound, the latter in the form of a shift towards psychedelic and stoner rock. Good things came from this transition, even if Yellow & Green and Gold & Grey were perhaps bloated records. On Stone, the band’s first with an unchanged line-up, Baroness remember their roots while still pressing onward with their evolution.
Some of those tendencies towards their older material appear early on the record; the opening riff to lead single “Last Word” is very mid-era Mastodon, offering a lively groove with some nice guitar embellishments, while “Beneath The Rose” similarly opens in rambunctious style. “Last Word” eventually shifts into a gentler rock cut with an immediately memorable chorus, but the latter track remains heavy mostly throughout, even bringing a few yells/screams into the equation at occasional moments. Later on the album, “Anodyne” slides somewhere between the sludge-lite sound of early Baroness and a more stoner rock-based style; the opening riff is quintessential desert rock fuzz, as are the later solos, but there’s also a slight gnarl to the verses.
The lighter psych rock inclinations of more recent albums do remain intact here, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent than one might expect. What also remain intact are the group’s prog tendencies, which the second half of the album brings more into the equation, with a trio of tracks over 6 minutes. Perhaps the song that most stands out to me is “Shine”, a lively, driving song in its first half that subsequently features a nice quiet Western-tinged bridge and then some lovely guitar harmonies. “Magnolia” really dives into the group’s quieter elements, with an extended mellow introduction and some delicate guitar leads later on, but at the same time there’s some pretty huge-sounding riffs in other parts of the song. “Under The Wheel” has similar contrasts to “Magnolia”, with lighter sounds early on followed by huge, hefty riffing combined with Baizley’s more bellowing shouted vocals.
I find that Baroness bringing back some of the heaviness from their earlier records works well here; this isn’t a rehash of the Red Album, but having the contrasts of the big, meaty riffs directly alongside the lighter psychedelic or stoner moments (plus the stripped-down acoustic ditties “The Dirge” and “Bloom”) works well here. Additionally, going for a compact 10-track release here ensures the release is more consistent than the at-times bloated double albums of the 2010s. Still, I do find that the latter half of the album does some heavy lifting with regards to the album’s quality; I would probably pick “Shine” through to “Under The Wheel” as the three best songs here.
With the earlier songs, there are a few nitpicks that emerge for me. Probably the thing that I most negatively react to on Stone is the odd and somewhat unpleasant semi-spoken vocal style on “Beneath The Rose”; I don’t see why Baizley seems to be impersonating a noise rock/post-punk vocalist here, but I don’t find that it works well with the song. There’s more in the same vein on “Choir”, although I do find at times the approach feels more fitting; on the flip side, “Choir” is a song that never really gets going before it starts its lengthy winddown. Finally, I do like “Last Word”, particularly its guitar solos and instrumental-only passages, but I’d argue the chorus threatens to overstay its welcome, and the opening riff, as fun as it is, is a bit of a fake-out considering nothing else in the song really matches its energy.
Still, on the whole, I’d rank Stone as one of Baroness’ strongest releases in a while, particularly when it gets into its groove after “The Dirge”. Perhaps the line-up stability they’ve managed to finally find is helping the group to get a clearer vision of where exactly they want to be going musically, in which case, it will be intriguing to see where they go next (and what naming convention Stone is the beginning of). For now, though, there’s a good amount of proggy, sludgy, stoner-y Baroness goodness here to get stuck into.
||Written on 18.09.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not|
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