In just around four months, it’ll be ten years since Baroness released their breakthrough second album Blue. A critical darling through and through, the twelve-track album explored a sound beyond metal that few if any bands could match – then and now. Over the course of their sixteen-year career, Baroness have transcended multiple styles ranging from sludge to proggy psychedelics while maintaining the aggressive sincerity that’s attracted so many passionate fans. Never a band to rest on its laurels, the Savannah, Georgia quartet once again look to reinvent their sound and re-contextualize what a metal record can be with their boldest and most triumphant effort yet – Gold & Grey.
Baroness unleashes their loudest and quietest arrangements ever into the highest pinnacles imaginable throughout their fifth full-length. Despite being just over an hour long, this is an album that demands your complete attention. Of course, there are plenty of standout tracks like “Tourniquet,” “Throw Me An Anchor,” and “Broken Halo,” but each track is significantly impacted by the carefully crafted interludes that precede them. Having an iconic visual artist as your band’s vocalist/guitarist proves to be beneficial, as John Baizley sees the final entry into the Baroness color spectrum as his most sprawling and immersive art project yet — the vision of which is executed to perfection throughout Gold & Grey’s seventeen tracks.
While Gold & Grey begins with a blistering pace thanks to the opening trio of “Front Toward Enemy,” “I’m Already Gone,” and “Seasons” (each one reminiscent of the finest cuts from the band’s prior two releases – Yellow & Green and Purple), it’s the collection’s slower yet equally punishing middle section that ties the record’s three acts together. Baizley is finally airing out all the demons – physically and mentally – that have plagued him and his former band members after a tragic bus accident in the summer of 2012. The trauma and grueling therapy that followed led to drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni leaving the band. Lead guitarist Peter Adams would depart amicably in 2017 to focus his energy at home and not on the road. The double-edged sword of being grateful he survived but dealing with the mental toll that comes along with that very survival is not lost on Baizley, sharing those complicated thoughts via the music Baroness is creating. Passages like “ I’d do anything to feel like I’m alive again” on the slow-burning “I’d Do Anything” and “ I’m in a shower of radiating light/But not where I belong” from the ghostly “Emmett – Radiating Light” hauntingly touch on all the pain Baizley has gone through over the past seven years. Exploring those soft, sobering spaces makes the payoff on a song like “Cold: Blooded Angels” so rewarding. Equally chilling and exhilarating, it’s one of the most powerful moments in Baroness’ entire history, as Baizley confronts the ugly truth and attempts to live through it (“We all pay a terrible price/when we learn to fly/And if I could forget you/oh, how hard I tried/Please, somebody tell me/how the hell did I survive?”).
Purple felt like a visceral reaction to the accident – as if Baroness were still in “shock” – it’s very go-go-go and aggressive – rarely taking time to catch its breath. With Gold & Grey, Baizley is processing all emotional and physical pain he and his bandmates went through, making sure to slow down the record in certain parts to showcase the duality of the record’s themes while expanding its sonic palette. Don’t get me wrong, Gold & Grey gets incredibly heavy, unnerving, and often hallucinatory – thanks in part to Dave Fridmann’s production. Drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist Nick Jost contributions smartly live in the front of the mix throughout, while Gina Gleason’s backing vocals and gargantuan riffs elevate this particular Baroness record to new highs. Just one listen to the record’s lead single – the roaring six-minute “Borderlines” – and you’ll grasp how irreplaceable Gleason’s contributions are not only limited to Gold & Grey but to Baroness’ lasting existence.
Despite all the shit the band has been through, Baroness continue to persevere and beat the odds, as Baizley’s earnestness still shines through even the darkest of moments on Gold & Grey (“We fall, we rise/ We bend, we break/ We burn, but we survive” from “Seasons” succinctly summarizes the past few years). It’s what makes Baroness’ fifth album the most accomplished and daring record of 2019. One of the most non-metal metal records I’ve ever heard, it steadily challenges listeners with funky textures, weird song structures, and hazy tones while also incorporating the band’s biggest sounding songs ever. It’s fitting that a masterpiece like Gold & Grey will finish the color spectrum a decade after Blue marked their arrival. Sure, it’s bittersweet that Baizley and company are closing this incredible, colorful era of the band’s history but that’s also the most exciting part: there’s unmarked terrain ahead, ready for whatever limitless universe Baroness shapes next.