Releasing an album just one week before Christmas isn’t really the smartest move. Any sort of financial gain is practically non-existent, and the sole bit of promotion is that an album is actually released in the first place in the midst of mid-December’s release drought. For bands like Baroness though, it hits the hardest – a band who emerged from Savannah, Georgia’s lucrative sludge-metal scene with the likes of Mastodon and Kylesa, but with little to no commercial backing outside of their own fanbase. These all may seem like huge hurdles to vault over, but the quality of Purple really speaks for itself.
On their fourth album, Baroness have followed the same path as Mastodon on their last two albums, namely taking all the core elements of their sound and condensing them into manageable packages. The result is over forty minutes of rumble hammered into some of the most potent and intelligent hard rock released all year. And it is hard rock – the vast majority of Purple couldn’t be classed as metal. The power emitted from The Iron Bell could be Queens Of The Stone Age at their heaviest and most unhinged, while the riffy bombast of Shock Me is what a pop song would sound like if it were made of lead. It’s Baroness at their most far-reaching but also their most grounded, and so much is crammed into Purple without it ever losing its way or feeling bloated.
Purple also impresses in how personal it is. It’s largely thematically centred around the band’s bus crash in 2012 in which nine people were injured, and it provides a portion of this album’s lyrical content. The most blatant example is in the stunning Chlorine And Wine, a song which is nearly seven minutes of elegiac beauty and power but feels like it’s over in about two minutes. The first lines from John Baizley are “When I called on my nursemaid / Come sit by my side / But she cuts through my rib cage / Pushes the pills deep in my eyes”, a lyric that is at least on par with some of the hardest hitting this year, but one that oozes the soul, pain and reverence that are the foundations of this album, and that make it great. But while these heavy themes take a more prominent role than actual musical mass, and while they make up the album’s best moments (the same goes for closing track proper If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?) as Chlorine And Wine), there’s a side of Baroness on Purple that is primed on loving life. Take Morningstar or Kerosene, both of which have an insatiable classic rock bounce that’s hard to ignore. There may be a dichotomy in terms of themes, but there’s an overall gravitas and candidness often not seen in alternative music, at least in this capacity.
But one thing about Purple is that it never makes a big song and dance about any of this. This is Baroness progressing with another fantastic album as if nothing had happened. There’s no sympathy involved, or needed – this is all kindling for Baroness’s lyrical fire, one that burns brighter than it ever has on parts of this album. And while it won’t be a commercial smash, it’s an underground gem to punctuate the end of Baroness’s darkest period, and the beginning of a brightness to come.
For fans of: Mastodon, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Sword
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Purple’ by Baroness is out now on Abraxan Hymns.