They fell 30 feet. In a bus. Off of a viaduct. That Baroness survived is incredible. That Purple is as good as it is proves not even an event this catastrophic could damage the Savannah, GA band’s vision and resiliency.
After 2012’s aforementioned accident, it would have been completely understandable for Baroness to have called it a day. And they almost did. In the time since, Baroness’s rhythm section (Bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle) made their amicable exits, likely due to permanent damage sustained from having fractured vertebrae during the crash. All in all a near-insurmountable healing process awaited frontman John Baizley and guitarist Peter Adams.
But heal they did, with new bassist Nick Jost and Trans AM drummer Sebastien Thompson, new record label Abraxan Hymns and super-producer Dave Fridmann (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) on board for their return to the studio.
Purple is a balancing act. It’s one final visit to a cataclysm that nearly broke them, but a resolute gaze forward all the same. The album’s title reflects their physical and mental bruises, but the lyrics, musicianship and harmony suggest that through all of that, they’ve found optimism. That’s to say that Baroness could have let their misery take precedence on Purple, but chose not to. Lest we forget: they’re a metal band. The genre skews towards pain and doom more often than searching for a silver lining. But somehow, this is an album that does both.
Purple is an expansion of Baroness’ signature sound. Since 2009, the band has woven Maiden-era riff rock, KYUSS-era sludge rock and unabashed psychedelia together. “Morningstar”, the album’s opening track, rolls those influences out individually, then keeps them mingling. It’s every bit as complex as it sounds, without sounding overwrought. It’s self-indulgent, sure, but so is every metal album in history.
Equally impressive on Purple is Baroness’ lyrical breadth. Metal lyrics are great at three things:
1) diffusing the white-hot rage of a bitter breakup
2) lavish, morbid details of personal trauma
3) tales of Viking warriors, conquering and pillaging the countryside.
At any one time, Purple could be talking about any of those things, and somehow it all makes sense. On “Shock Me”, the lyrics are medieval as hell, but also elicit the horrible injury the band endured. “The polestar wheeled above my head/ Until such time it grew/ A deep well of despair I found The day my dreams came true.”
But Purple’s soaring high point is the almost seven-minute track, “Chlorine & Wine”. It’s a sprawling epic, and it’s peak Baroness. Chest-pounding lyrics (“The day I stopped swimming/And came out of the tide/I’d never felt so uncomfortably numb/Here by your side”) accompany a musical prog-mania. Ominous, twinkly guitars and piano explode into a thundering locomotive, back into a (relatively) gentle lull and then, finally, combining it all into a gargantuan climax. The only thing more exciting than the song itself is imagining how it’ll come off live, which we’ll likely be able to see later this year.
To call Baroness ‘inspired’ on Purple would be a confounding understatement. This is better than the album fans would have hoped for after Yellow and Green and it is so in spite of – and perhaps because of – the tragedy that followed it. It’s also an album that simultaneously pushes the band – and the genre – forward into an exciting new future.
Essential Tracks: “Shock Me”, “Chlorine & Wine”, “Desperation Burns”