Baroness have really had a hard time in the music industry. Many artists have been chewed up and cast aside by ‘The Establishment’ (the earworm of Welcome To The Machine has unsurprisingly burrowed into my brain as I type this), but Baroness’ downfall was an altogether different and more poignant kind of defeat. In August 2012, the band had just released their excellent third album Yellow And Green, and were on a tour that was looking as if it would finally earn them some long-overdue mainstream success. That’s when their tour bus fell thirty feet from a viaduct, leaving drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni with fractured vertebrae that would ultimately result in their departure from the band. For a while, it looked as if Baroness – and lead singer John Dyer Baizley’s left arm – were history.
In light of all this, Baroness really deserve a triumph – and what a triumph Purple is.
Purple is the record in which Baroness really come into their own. This perhaps isn’t the most appropriate way to describe the album, considering their other three studio efforts are very good indeed, but this is something else altogether. With this LP, Baroness have maintained and honed the strengths of their other albums – the raw intensity of Red Album, the cohesiveness of Blue Record, the catchiness of Yellow And Green – and stirred them all together in their musical melting pot, throwing in some new spices for good measure. Perhaps it’s the new line-up, perhaps it’s the increased musical maturity, or maybe it’s simply the band’s new perspective after their tour accident. Whatever it is that’s spawned this juggernaut of an album, it’s something to be grateful for. The hard-hitting Morningstar opens the record, reminding fans what they’ve been missing. Riffs batter the eardrums like waves crashing against a coastal wall, before Baizley’s powerful cry rips through the fray, paving the way for soaring guitar lines. Promotional single Shock Me follows, beginning with an introduction reminiscent of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, complete with lush synths and sparse, clear guitar tones, before the band launch into a rumbling barrage of sound.
The most musically simple song on the album is also the most lyrically direct, and the track seems to reference the effect the band’s tour bus accident had on them. “Shock me, I needed a surprise” is the most pertinent line in the song, reflecting the silver lining of the accident’s dark cloud that is Purple – no pun intended. Like many of the album’s tracks, the lyrical content here is subtle enough to engage the listener, whilst still being direct enough to avoid becoming abstruse or irritating.
Something that occurred to me on my third or fourth listen of the album is that it has no weak tracks whatsoever – something I find myself rarely noting of a record. From the frantic 7⁄8 rush of Kerosene to the groove metal swagger of Desperation Burns, each song somehow stands out from its neighbours, but none more so than album centrepiece Chlorine And Wine. This is probably the most complex track on the album, and may well be Baroness’ finest to date. Rather like its musical antithesis Shock Me, Chlorine And Wine opens with exquisite waves of sound which soon give way to delicate guitar. It builds elegantly and expertly, exploring all the finest elements of the band’s sonic catalogue, before culminating in a tremendous, towering tour de force. The sheer bombast of this final section’s delivery can only be described as epic, as Baizley’s bellowing voice roars in the face of death and defeat.
“Please Don’t lay me down Under the rocks where I found My place in the ground A home for the fathers and sons”
Although it may not be the next big development in rock music, Purple is the band’s most powerful and personal release to date, and is easily one of the finest rock albums released this year. How fortuitous that December 18th should yield two of 2015’s best albums (if you haven’t heard Pusha T’s new album yet, why not?). Baroness are back – bigger, badder and better than ever.