Baroness has spent most of the last decade refining and redefining who they are. From their early EPs, presenting a scruffy and raw Savannah alt-metal group, to their lauded recent output, Baroness consistently illustrates a new growth spurt with every release.
This quality, plus an ingrained ability to push the boundaries of modern metal without branching into extreme subgenres, is a trait that’s turned the band into a critical darling and a hit with audiences.
Gold & Grey, Baroness’ fifth and most recent album, is yet another well-reviewed outing that sees the band continuing their strides toward the melodic (“Tourniquet”), psychedelic (“Pale Sun”), and even the serene (“Emmet – Radiating Light”).
“What we set out to do with the record was to create a recorded piece of work that was a genuine, honest reflection of where we are as songwriters,” guitarist/singer John Baizley responds when asked why he believes the album has done so well. “From the standpoint of experience and the way that I write lyrics, it’s a very personal look at the experiences I’ve had over the past couple of years. All of this is wrapped up in a very dense bouquet of sonic mayhem.”
According to the songwriter, the group has disregarded the status quo of rock production, sometimes even subverting it, in favor of something “weirder.”
“I think what we’ve done is we’ve created a collection of songs, which if you strip away all of the artifice, the outside stuff — they’re pretty interesting and sort of unique in their structure,” says Baizley.
Gold & Grey opens in a conventional spot for fans of modern hard rock and metal. “Front Toward Enemy” moves fast and hits hard, in Baroness’ usual choral-blitzkrieg, while expecting listeners to keep an ear to the ground for those signature flourishes. An indiscernible metallic scratch careens behind the verse, a detail that adds scope, but is difficult to track on the first listen. The band revives the song intro’s soft vocal harmony for the track’s bridge, but lets the heavy main riff continue to churn.
“I’m Already Gone” is a similar mesh of kosher and unorthodox stylings. Spacey guitars and reversed drum hits garnish the track’s cut-to-the-chase bassline. When the melody-driven chorus kicks in, the subtle bells steal the show from Baizley’s strong vocals and Gina Gleason’s saturated guitar strum.
The band’s seeming dependence on the next step is something adjacent to a survival mechanism — and it’s how the band continues to push their own boundaries.
“The events that happen to this band, that could be seen as negative, that are certainly things we don’t ask for or anticipate — I’ve come to see those things as opportunities,” Baizley says.
Thoughts are conjured of the band’s numerous members coming and going, and the 2012 tour bus crash that injured nine and caused two members to leave the band.
“If it’s a lineup change,” he continues, “rather than dwelling on the fact that somebody who I care about is leaving the band and that’s going to create a hole in the sound of the band, I choose to see the incoming member as an opportunity to fill up that space that has become unoccupied, but to do something further than that; an opportunity to expand or to grow.”
Baroness’ proclivity for development continues on Gold & Grey, thanks in part to Gina Gleason, who took over lead guitar after long-time member Peter Adams left the band in 2017. Her contributions punch hard on the glitchy lead run of “Throw Me an Anchor” and the gritty dissonance of “Borderlines.”
“With each incoming member, I believe that one of my strengths as a bandleader and as a songwriter is that I am able to see what the incoming members have that can be applied,” Baizley states. “We’ve never been in the case where someone coming in has to emulate the former musician that they’re replacing.”
New members are just another aspect of the band’s ceaseless growth into a sound akin to metal, that strays from the traditions of the genre. Gold & Grey carves a home somewhere between the gnarled grooves of hard rock, the caustic tones of heavy metal, and the unhinged ambition of art rock. It shouldn’t have worked — or maybe we should say it shouldn’t have peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard 200. Not in 2019, at least.
Yet, despite the odds, the album and the band’s success doesn’t surprise Baizley. The only thing that’s left him scratching his head is how the audience and their relationship to the music has changed alongside Baroness.
“We’ve got a room full of weird, sad, world-weary positivity,” the singer-guitarist says, describing his fans. “As a songwriter, you really don’t know who you’re speaking to until you do, and by the time you do, there’s no turning back. The type of experiences people have with our music are different than originally anticipated. People share stories with me after the show, these days, and people connect with our band in a way that I did not foresee.”
Baroness will also perform an acoustic set and album signing at Monster Music and Movies on Sun. Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
Love Best of Charleston?
Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.