Baroness // Yellow & Green
Rating: Yellow – 3.5/5.0 | Green – 2.0/5.0
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: baronessmusic.com | facebook.com/YourBaroness | baroness.bandcamp.com [Full Stream]
Release Dates: NA: 07.19.2012 | EU: 2012.07.16
There comes a time in most musicians’ lives where they figure out that in order to attain their bid for immortality, they’re gonna need to start writing some actual songs. Pop and country acts are typically aware of this from the start, while most electronic artists never really get the hang of it. Metal bands usually figure out the ‘songs’ thing about 3 or 4 albums into their career, which leads to the small matter of how to make the transitition gracefully without pissing off all your hard-earned fans. Metallica‘s self-titled 1991 album is perhaps the ultimate example; more recently Mastodon and Opeth went through similar growing pains (usually with the band doing the ‘growing,’ and their fans providing the ‘pain’). The latest metal band begging for punishment is Savannah, GA’s Baroness, who have just released a double album, Yellow & Green.
I’m not intimately familiar with Baroness‘ back catalog, but I am vaguely aware of the controversy surrounding this album: singer/guitarist Jon Baizley has completely abandoned harsh vocals this time around, as well as toning down the band’s more overt ‘metal’ qualities. In a way, I admire the balls it takes to make a double album at this time—not only are they making music that will undoubtedly anger some fans, but they’re giving them a double dose of it [“What, you don’t like it? Here, have some more!” It’s a little like reviewing retro thrash over here. - AMG]. But consider yourself warned: this record is about songs, not riffs. It has less to do with “heaviness” (whatever that means), and more to do with textures and hooks. And for the most part, Baroness pulls it off admirably. These are memorable, powerful songs, but pretty damn far from being “commercial”—Baizley’s clean vocals are still pretty ear-unfriendly, and the band’s sound is far too weird to be mistaken for, say, Foo Fighters. If anything, it reminds me slightly of Cave In, another band that traded heaviness for songcraft (and then quickly traded back after their fans crucified them).
For whatever reason, most of the heavier, better songs seem to have ended up on the Yellow half. “Take My Bones Away” is a Soundgarden-esque mutant of a song, gigantic and catchy as hell. The pounding “March to the Sea” and the vaguely Fleetwood Mac-sounding “Cocainium” are also standouts (and could there possibly be a better name for a song that sounds like Fleetwood Mac?). Yellow’s final track “Eula” is a slow-building epic, more of a cathartic outpouring than a structured song, and probably the overall highlight of the set.
The Green side is home to some interesting experiments and, unfortunately, a lot of filler. There’s nothing wrong with being adventurous, but Baroness should’ve thought twice before fucking around with wanna-be dub reggae (“Collapse”) or Radiohead-style cut-up drum samples (“Psalms Alive”). Worse yet, a lot of the songs are half-assed and don’t really go anywhere. Green still contains a couple winners, such as the majestic and massive opener “Green Theme,” and the more riff-driven “The Line Between.” But overall, this half goes out with a whimper, not a bang. If the Yellow disc makes a strong case for the band’s evolution, it’s the stuff on Green that proves the naysayers right.
To put it bluntly, Yellow and Green has about a single album’s worth of good songs, and then a bunch of other shit you don’t need. Just like every other double album that’s ever come out. So what? The good songs are really good, and in this age of iTunes playlists, you could easily pick and choose. Or, you could just write the whole thing off as some kind of contrived sellout move. But then you’d be missing out on some really good music, wouldn’t you? [But you would, indeed, be boosting your metal cred, so you know, 6 of one… – AMG]