Baroness will release their highly anticipated fifth LP this Friday, June 14 on their own Abraxan Hymns label. Entitled Gold & Grey, it’s their first one in four years (since Purple) and marks the first album with new guitarist/backing vocalist Gina Gleason, who takes over for Pete Adams, who left the band after a near 10-year stint (2008-2017). It is also reportedly going to be the last of their color-themed albums.
If you’re a heavy metal fan and loved Baroness’s inventive prog and southern sludge metal sound on classics like “Isak” from their debut 2007 Red Album, you’re gonna salivate over the opener of this new record, “Front Toward Enemy.” Its ultra heavy riffs counterbalance John Baizley’s soaring vocals. It also happens to be the heaviest song on the new album – the award for most intense number goes to “Seasons,” highlighted by black metal-fast drumming just shy of the three-minute mark.
Along with “Front Toward Enemy,” the heart-wrenching rocker “Tourniquet” is an early favorite here, rich in color and texture. Starting out first not unlike ’70s or Fleet Foxes-ish folk with reverb-soaked harmony vocals (Baizley and Gleason) and acoustic guitar strums, it suddenly transforms into a full band rager. Phaser-aided melodies and driving rhythm carry the song to another level, highlighted by Nick Jost’s fast and thick bass lines and ferocious drummer Sebastian Thomson. Then there’s the twin guitar solos by Baizley and Gleason, and Sonic Youth-ian dreamy guitars to end it. What an epic accomplishment for one song.
Where the new girl Gleason shines the most, however, is on “I’d Do Anything,” a mostly smoky piano and acoustic ballad where her own backing vocals soar alongside Baizley’s. Her voice on this tune and lead single “Borderlines” brings a depth to the band you didn’t realize was missing.
In addition to bass duties, Jost plays on the keyboard/synthesizer and gets to shine on six interludes, highlighted by the pretty, twinkling arpeggios on “Sevens,” the symphonic “Anchor’s Lament,” and “Assault on East Falls,” which Thom Yorke might approve of.
More than halfway through this 17-track album, Baroness takes an all-acoustic break via “Emmett-Radiating Light.” It’s a quiet and haunting number. Unfortunately, the audio on “Throw Me an Anchor” has gotten the (Metallica) Death Magnetic treatment – in other words, it is overly compressed. And that’s a shame (especially with ace producer David Fridmann at the helm) for it’s an otherwise monster number led by Thomson’s masterful drum fills.
Bottom Line: After releasing a few EPs to start its career, Baroness took its southern sludge metal style 12 years ago to debut LP Red Album. Since then, the band has moved out of the South (from Georgia to Pennsylvania), branched out into new musical territory (via bits of psychedelia, electronic, folk, etc.), and has been all the better for it. One could say that Blue Record was the peak of Baroness’s metal prowess, but Gold & Grey is their crowning achievement. I can see the band one day performing and touring it in its entirety. 4.5 out of 5 stars
Key Tracks: “Front Toward Enemy,” “Seasons,” “Tourniquet,” “Throw Me an Anchor,” and “Borderlines”
Stream Baroness LP Gold & Grey now on NPR.