“Ah, the orange album!” fans collectively exclaimed when Baroness first shared the artwork for their upcoming LP earlier this year. It was upon reading the attached caption that the true title presented itself, leaving the band’s colour-wheel somewhat incomplete but offering something more nuanced and less clear-cut instead – Gold & Grey; shiny wealth and murky blandness, instead of the whimsical brightness of orange. It’s certainly a more fitting name. As the quartet’s exploration of the colour spectrum has gone on, their music has grown both in ambition and execution. But whilst their career is now lined with classics, it hasn’t come without its struggles. A near-fatal bus accident back in 2012 triggered some upheavals in the band’s roster soon after, and now a few years on from the opinion-dividing Purple, guitarist and vocalist John Baizley is the sole remaining member from before the journey began. “We bend / We break / We burn but we survive” he sings on single ‘Seasons’, a poignant line coming from a band who’ve been through the ringer and a front-man who has spoken openly about his mental health struggles in the past.
Indeed, whilst the band’s music has taken them through sludge, stoner rock, classic rock, traditional heavy metal and more experimental realms, Gold & Grey is a record that can be categorised perhaps by not only its distinct sound but also its reflective tone. Amongst the band’s usual fare, albeit without the consistent grittiness of earlier works, can be found introspective interludes and stripped-back moments of emotive expression, from the delicate keys of ‘Seven’ and the serene balladry of ‘Tourniquet’s opening moments to the heart-rending tones of ‘I’d Do Anything’ and the disconcerting twangy guitar chimes of ‘Crooked Mile’. At the other end of the spectrum, though, can be found the immense riff-filled voyages of ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ and ‘Broken Halo’, which call to mind modern Mastodon at their most exploratory. Then there’s ‘Emmett-Radiating Light’, with its thoughtful tones and melodies that tug at heartstrings amongst an unnerving atmosphere from which one is certainly not expecting such beauty. Though it’s held together by the band’s signature tone, Gold & Grey is certainly dynamic.
When the band last explored two colours at once on 2012’s Yellow & Green, each colour comprised one half of a double album. Gold & Grey holds just a track less (though is almost twenty minutes shorter) but is not presented as such, with the two colours’ respective symbolism merging into one amorphous shade. The album flows as one continuous piece bound together by a poignancy that’s often front and centre (‘I’d Do Anything’) but sometimes latent, concealed in the soaring melodies of vibrant and frenetic tracks like ‘Can Obscura’ and ‘Seasons’. The latter track, for instance, presents what fans may come in expecting, with unrelenting and searing rhythms being the name of the game (returning drummer Sebastian Thomson even busts out some blastbeats), but also present are Baizley’s mournful cries and fuzzy guitars that seem to accentuate this internal pain rather than bludgeon blindly as such metal often does. New guitarist Gina Gleason shines here, not only in her evocative playing but also with her moving vocal harmonies, which are used throughout in a manner that recalls Alice In Chains.
It is through inventive new additions such as this that the band expand their sound. Such progression marks a fitting end to Baroness’ colour-coded series of releases, as Gold & Grey sees the band cast their creative net further than ever before, emerging with something grand and truly life-affirming. Some have criticised its length in an age in where attention spans are apparently waning – “could be seen as being stubbornly tethered to the past” said NME – but this scope allows the band to surpass so many of their peers. This is hard rock as art; beautiful, powerful and moving.
Gold & Grey is out via Abraxan Hymns on 14th June. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr