On their fifth album, Gold & Grey, Baroness have completed the rainbow they started in 2007 with the Red Album. Like many Baroness fans, I worried how this album would turn out after hearing the rough production job on the singles. So how did this latest addition to Baroness’ color palette fare?
Well the songs on this album are pretty damn awesome. From the opening drop-A riffage of barnburner “Front Toward Enemy” to the closing shouts on the experimental “Pale Sun”, this album is Baroness’ most consistent to date in terms of songwriting quality. And also their most varied. The band manages to pull off intimate ballads, big choruses, intricate riffs, and ambitious experimentation all with the same level of conviction.
This album highlights all four members’ musical capabilities. John Dyer Baizely has always delivered captivating vocal performances, but he’s on another level on this album. He runs the gamut of his vocal range here with his raw, emotional performances. New member Gina Gleason’s backing vocals complement Baizley extremely well, and she rips on lead guitar. Drummer Sebastian Thomson is set loose on his album, providing tasty grooves and zesty fills. But the standout performance goes to bass master Nick Jost. This is the first Baroness album where the bass is the focal point rather than the guitars, and Jost rises to the occasion.
Did I mention how good the songs on this thing are? On “Cold-Blooded Angles”, vocal harmonies (including harmonies from Bazely’s daughter) are gradually stacked to build the beautiful first half, before exploding into an uptempo heater. “Tourniquet” sees Baroness take influence from their Philly neighbors Nothing and masterfully apply their spin to the style. If you know and love Baroness for their anthemic choruses, then look no further than “Borderlines” and “Throw Me an Anchor”. On “I’d Do Anything”, the band builds a moving ballad out of a simple four chord progression. Baizley’s passionate vocal performance here is equally matched by Gleason’s stunning harmonies.
There’s also this incredible song called “Seasons”, but before I blabber on about that I have to address the elephant in the room…
The production. It’s only an issue for the heavier tracks, but it really holds those songs back. On these cuts, the guitar either sounds buried (verses of “Borderlines” and “Throw Me an Anchor”) or way too harsh (end of the choruses on “Borderlines”). At their busiest moments, these tracks sound like they are clipping, and a lot of the intricacies become hard to distinguish. There are also a few weird editing choices here and there (the harmony vocal cutoff at the end of “Broken Halo”), but these are pretty minor compared to the issues stated previously. “Seasons” suffers the most from this production job. The blast beats in what should be a climactic second chorus fall flat, the more shoegazey guitar parts get lost, and a lot of the drum fills sound clippy. But give the song a chance and you’ll hear some of the band’s finest songwriting, along with one of my favorite Baroness guitar solos.
But despite (and perhaps in spite of) the production issues, these songs are strong enough to hold their own. Is this Baroness’ best album? It’s too soon to tell, but it’s definitely their most consistent and most ambitious effort to date. At this point, it’s hard to call Baroness a metal band anymore, but on Gold & Grey they’ve proven that genre labels don’t really matter for them. The band charts in to new territory while still sounding like Baroness, and continues to make some of the best songs in all of rock/prog/metal/alternative – whatever you want to call it – music today.
Best Tracks: Cold-Blooded Angels, Seasons, Front Toward Enemy, Tourniquet, Borderlines
Weakest Tracks: Broken Halo, Assault on East Falls
Overall Score: A-