Released: 2015, Abraxan Hymns
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Savannah, Ga., hard rockers Baroness have had a tough battle back following the devastating 2012 bus accident that put them out of action weeks after their mammoth third album Yellow & Green was released. While everyone was still recovering, frontman/guitarist John Baizley and lead guitarist Peter Adams then had to find a new rhythm section when drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni left – in part because the injuries they suffered in the crash.
But two years after healing up, bringing Nick Jost and Sebastian Thompson on board and getting back out on the road, Baroness return with a surprisingly upbeat, even triumphant album in Purple – issued this time through their own label. Purple maintains Yellow & Green's tendencies toward more direct, melodic “rock” songs – as opposed to the sludgier fare on the band's first two albums. But it also strips away some of Y&G's double-album ambitiousness, delivering 10 tracks (including two brief instrumentals) in a gritty, efficient 45 minutes – with an emphasis on gritty. The album's sound is surprisingly raw, but it's live-in-the-studio feel gives it an infectious natural energy and spunk.
Buoyant opener “Morningstar” sets the tone with its rousing chorus and stirring guitar harmonies and is followed by the gloriously catchy anthem “Shock Me,” an earworm of a song if there every was one – I've had the chorus stuck in my head for weeks, not that I'm complaining. “Try To Disappear” is more propulsive, but no less inviting. Ditto “Kerosene.”
Purple definitely is a front-loaded album, with the punchiest tracks offered first and the more expansive and rangey material left for the back half. But that in no way detracts from the overall experience.
After the transitional instrumental “Fugue,” which signals the half-way point, the Western-tinged sprawl of “Chlorine & Wine” echoes Thin Lizzy's “Cowboy Song” in its gorgeous guitar trade-offs and Queen and in its grandiosity. Those trade-offs repeat on “Iron Bell,” lending a hint of elegance to what is otherwise the album's most discordant track. “Desperation Burns” brings back some of the sludge Baroness has been moving away from with its thick, thunderous bottom end. “If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)” ends things on a melancholy note that might have sounded more maudlin were it not for Baizley's hopeful delivery and Thompson's skittering backbeat.
Indeed, that's true of much of the album. What could have been a painfully self-reflective, even fatalistic work – given the circumstances that preceded it – instead seems more of an affirmation that all is as good as it can be with the band and they would rather look forward than dwell on the past.