Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Baroness - Yellow & Green

Yellow & Green, the third full-length album from southern sludgesters Baroness, has found itself on a lot of “Most Anticipated Albums of the Year” lists, and for good reason.  Yellow & Green was announced as a double album, which meant twice as much Baroness as expected, and the band’s first two records, Red and Blue were hailed as filling the void in sludgy heavy metal left by Mastodon’s divergence into prog territory; also they were great albums that showcased the band’s impressive skills.  And so the excitement has been building steadily for Yellow & Green for very nearly a year, with fans excited to rejoice is what was sure to be another sludge masterpiece.  But then something weird happened.  People who had listened to the album began using words like “poppy” and “radio-friendly” to describe it.  The first song Baroness released from the album, “Take My Bones Away,” featured harmonious vocals in place of the beastly bellows of lead singer John Baizley, and the next two (“March to the Sea” and “Eula”) followed suit.  Was it a joke?  Was Baroness sacrificing their place in metal’s royal lineage for the safety of radio rock? Were people jumping to ridiculous conclusions after reading reviews and hearing only a sixth of Yellow & Green’s music?

Get the answers to these questions after the jump…

The short answer to all three of these questions is an emphatic “no.”  Yellow & Green is certainly different than Barnoness’ previous work, but not so much so that fans won’t enjoy it, or even love it.  Yes, there are vocal harmonies and more intricate guitar parts, but new bassist Matt Maggioni underlies it all with a sludgy bass presence that keeps the albums rooted in the band’s past while still allowing them to move forward.  Think of it as being more southern sludge rock with metal influences, as opposed to sludge metal with southern rock influences.  It’s a fairly large transition, but there’s no need to worry about dropping the needle and hearing nothing more than a heavier Kings of Leon record.  Baroness still bring the sludge, and Baizley’s roars are complemented incredibly by the added harmonies.

The thing that stands out even more than that is how memorable Yellow & Green is across the board.  After listening to it all week, I have the main guitar riff from “March to the Sea,” the vocal melody from “Back Where I Belong,” the bass/bass drum/snare rhythm section of “Cocanium,” and countless other bits and pieces from the other songs on the album fighting each other in my brain for the honor of being hummed.  I think “catchy” is probably a better word than “poppy” to describe the album, as the song constructions are possibly the most intricate and varied of Baroness’ career.  Think back to the band’s Red, specifically “Isak” and “Wailing Wintery Wind.”  Those songs sound completely different, and each is locked into the sound of the song.  Now the band is allowing sounds and styles to bleed into each other, as evidenced by “Eula” moving from an ethereal, breathy ballad into a full-on, balls out rocker over the course of its seven minutes.  Yellow & Green, much like Gojira’s L’Enfant Sauvage, is an album of transition by an incredible band that isn’t content to rest on their laurels.

Yellow & Green isn’t quite perfect; as our pal Jack illustrated so well about Gojira, Baroness doesn’t quite nail the transition they’re aiming for.  There are some spots where the music almost gets too slow and loses the intensity that permeates the rest of the record, and I really didn’t think the two “theme” songs for each half added anything to the overall album.  None of these issues, though, is as glaring as the Split, which comes close to ruining Yellow & Green.  Though it’s very, very good in its own right, the Green half of the album is almost completely overshadowed by the Yellow, and the rumored split in the tone of the two colors is unnecessary at best; all of Yellow & Green is different Baroness, so why try to make “less different” and “more different” halves?  One of the dangers inherent in double albums is that one half will be so much better than the other that the lesser half feels like a bloated attempt at filling two albums instead of making the best album possible regardless of length.  Yellow & Green doesn’t quite fall into category, but it does come close, as Yellow would undoubtedly be an instant classic and my frontrunner for Best Album this year, while Green would be a really cool change for one of my favorite bands that left me wanting more.  As the sum, Yellow & Green falls somewhere in the middle.  It by far exceeds the expectations I had for it after months of waiting, but by the end it fails to live up to the expectations created by its first forty minutes.  

- Durf

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