Tape Wyrm XXVII: Baroness – Yellow & Green Tape Wyrm XXVII: Baroness – Yellow & Green

This is a review of Baroness’s 2012 record Yellow & Green. This review, however, is at the end of a lengthy reevaluation of the band’s discography. This article is not rooted in some blind praise for the band and everything they have done. In fact, the spectrum of emotions experienced with their music couldn’t be further from consistent. Some of you, well most, may be wondering why I have chosen to spend so much time on a band when there are literally a hundred more albums I have to review. Quite simply, Baroness was one of my first metal bands and at a time my favorite. And then, they were not.

Baroness represents a unique place in my metal history as they were one of the first bands my friends and I fully embraced. I feel metal, for me, was more of a social experience than traditionally generalized. Baroness’ album arch and semi regular touring schedule lead to a relationship with the band and interested parties. Baroness was something that led to gatherings and reasons for interaction with other people. Their music was somewhat accessible to newcomers which lead to even more relationships and new friends. We soon started holding listening parties for each record release which gave us a chance to discuss the bands work and future directions. I know things are different now. At the moment only one of my friends is on his way to listen to Yellow & Green.

Despite any feelings of disappointment with a band’s music, I still find progressive arcs to be fascinating. Spending time with a band near their inception and watching them grow is astounding, especially given the right amount of social support. While I may not feel the same way as I once did about this band, Baroness’ music is rooted within my early adult hood. I spent my post graduate career with Baroness and at the age of 31 I find myself grateful for the past. Whether or not Baroness and I will continue our relationship in the future is of course saved for another discussion. Let us start at the beginning.

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First (2004)

It is difficult to fault First as it is pretty damn impressive. Baroness started a sludge band with heavy progressive leanings. It was not until this reevaluation that I was aware of their initial slope towards experimentation. For an EP, First’s three tracks and 16 minutes succeeds in proposing interesting questions. Its answers are rough because they are not as refined as later releases. Their answers are in the form of growled responses. I have always enjoyed listening to these early releases because of the raw production. Its basement atmosphere reminds me of my old apartments where I would listen to Russian Circles and Pelican until the sun came up. I would stomp on roaches and drink shitty beer until I went to bed like a champion. “Rise” will always be cemented in some part of the mid 00’s and is thus inescapable from enjoyment.

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Second (2005)

Second is a sketch to the Red Album. It was the first release to incorporate harmonized guitar leads and more of a connected song structure. Compared to First, Second provided the gauge in which each release would mature. By this rate it is now easy to see how far the band would eventually venture. Second is heavier and John Baizely’s voice is more throaty and wild. Baroness’ penchant for heaviness reached a peak with the level of quality trailing close behind. The true craft in Second is the level of comfort achieved in a studio atmosphere. The band became confident and even somewhat cocky to their own talent and what they could achieve.

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A Grey Sigh In A Flower Husk-(Split with Unpersons)- (2007)

I read somewhere that the unofficial title for this release is Third. For my own need to classify everything it remains in my library as Third. This is a split with the now defunct outfit Unpersons. This split was released a few months before the Red Album and did nothing but tease the potential revealed in the next release. This was the moment in which I realized the full potential of this band. The band did this with “Cavite.”

At 12 minutes, Baroness achieved something greater than seen with any of their previous work. “Cavite’s” tenacity and aggression combined with a structure cuts through this release. The entire release is worth it just for this song. While “Teiresias” is an interesting and aggressive track, it is nowhere near the level of achievement as its companion. The same goes for Unpersons.

I never really gave Unpersons a chance and find it odd the band disbanded after this release. I find even more odd yet fitting that the bassist, Matt Maggioni now plays in Baroness following the departure of longtime member Summer Welch. Unpersons is strange as well as an odd fit on this split. With as much loyalty directed to Alice in Chains and Slint as Eyehategod, the band exuded despondency and only a faint attention to melody. Fuck it, this is a great closing number for the band.

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Red Album (2007)

The same friend who now travels down to listen to Yellow & Green was away from his computer the week the Red Album was released. For that week all of his dear friends sent him texts on how amazing the album was and different songs we were into. This infuriated him and made us all laugh. The Red Album is the pinnacle of Baroness’ career. In hindsight, it strikes the balance between two aspects of the band. The murky and violent formations began to shift and compose themselves in interesting structures. It was a record, for me at least, which was the first true testament to the band’s skill and potential. To this day, it is one of my favorite records. Not just because of its place in my own history but as an objective judgment.

The Red Album did the same thing as the first two EPs in that it constructed a narrative just in a longer format. As seen with following releases, the band weaves repeating melodies throughout the record giving a sense of familiarity and recognition. John Baizley’s lyrics for the Red Album transformed themselves from the very abstract and airy lyrics which marked previous releases. They were visceral and striking. This only worked to its advantage when the music was so commanding.

I still struggle whether or not the Red Album is really a metal record. In fact, I am starting to question Baroness’ place within the metal world past the early EPs. This of course is not an insult as I have already sung their praises almost indefinitely. Baroness’ progression is not marked by any style or any fidelity to sonic heaviness. The band seems to be fascinated with low end brutality in the same way exhibited by Karp and The Melvins. Heaviness as a reaction. Heavy as art. Heaviness as a necessity.

This classification makes sense given the continuing of Baroness’ career. The Red Album would be the last instance of aggression. The following records would be diluted by half. I now realize that each concoction would be embraced by a new generation with some people giving up.

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Blue Record (2009)

The anticipation and subsequent experience of this record was one of the most defining moments in my relationship with Baroness. It was important for me as I did not really enjoy this record when I first heard it. My friends planned a weekend around the release of this album. We all drank wine and sat in a basement in Queens for the night. I say I did not like this record when I first heard it. It was not until listening to it for the second time, two years later which I became attached.

Blue Record is the sister record the Red Album. Where Red was masculine and aggressive, Blue is softer and exudes feminine qualities. There is still the gruff vocal harmonies in Baizley’s voice yet the music moves away from their sludge beginnings. There are more instances of acoustic passage and interlude. This release exchanged crushing riffs for harmonic guitar leads with an addition of more complexity. It wasn’t until listening to it again two years later that I enjoyed as much if not more of it than the Red Album.

Blue Record is more accomplished than the Red Album. I enjoy listening to the Red more but I feel Blue has more in the way of intricacy on its side. The harmony in guitar leads is astounding on this record. The instances of weaving repeating passages throughout the record is more evident. This album is technically Baroness’ high point — their ghost mountain — and the time when the band stopped or finished being anything relegated to metal.

I always feel like I am defending the term “not metal” to others. Metal should never be thought of as an indicator of quality. The Blue Record is not a metal album just like Here Comes the Water Works or Bleach is not really a metal record. The Blue Record is a fantastic album regardless of style or genre. It is an album which hits all desired points and makes a resonating impression with its listeners. This is important when moving on t o the new release.

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Baroness – Yellow & Green

We have arrived.

Yellow & Green came with much grandeur and anticipation. First, there was the debate of album titles and whether or not the band would continue with the color theme. Then there was the announcement of the double record along with the very pleasing color choice of Yellow & Green. I waited and skipped singles and preview tracks until someone came down to listen to it with me. I wasn’t doing this shit alone.

As reported in over a dozen publications, Baroness once again has softened their approach to music. From their very progressive and sludge formation the band is now almost completely without distortion or dissonance. I was aware of this change months before but the look on both of our faces when listening to the album must have been priceless. If I were to picture it, it would be somewhere between confusion and utter disdain.

Before you write hurtful comments in the box below — which you should — you have to realize the music is fantastic. The music on Yellow & Green is spectacular in its further exploration of sonic texture. Without the necessity to crash and pay tribute to heavy moments, the band is allowed to craft landscapes of complexity. If this record was instrumental, it would be among my top 10 of 2012. To bad we have to hear the vocals.

Things become sour almost immediately when Baizely’s once rugged voice dips and croons to the tune of mid 90’s alt rock. Much like Mastodon, Baroness intentionally or unintentionally pays tribute to one of the worst eras of mainstream rock with some of the most cringe inducing melodies of their career. Things are further worsened when the band’s once interesting and poetic lyrics are reduced to simplistic cartoons. Where once lyrics like these graced inside covers:

Perambulation
Wading
Milk the keel through tidal slough at down
On and on
Grating and lapping at the swollen stinking skin
Imitation
Mating muscles cut through cord
Through mountain’s own
On and on
Sated but engorged on mother’s milk and fed as twins
Bold defecation
Raise the bow and aim for crimson dawn

We are now left with these.

Sweet morphine 
You’ve taken all of me 
Let me know 
When you will let me go 

Heroin 
Where did you take my friend? 
Tell me why 
Those ropes are hanging high 

Valium 
You left me all alone

As I wade through these tomatoes which are being flung at me, I am more confused than anything. Every pre-release review of this record garnered spotless and glowing reviews. What in the hell? If this album was made by any other band I wouldn’t have gotten through it with such a teeth clenching sense of justification. I feel everyone is too afraid to voice their disappointment for fear of negating the band’s previous albums. This is not a pleasing record and it causes more winces than instances of joy. I am torn whether or not it is a bad record or just one that I absolutely loathe.

If I were a more emotional person I would fill this review with comedic metaphors and empty threats. But I am not. I have long passed the era when my emotions were tied to a sense of judgment. Just like the new Mastodon record I can identify a well made album which I do not like one bit. Objectively, Baroness has crafted a decent record. Structurally, it is pieced together well with instances of tension and release. It also has its target audience, which unfortunately does not include me. Whether or not it is emotionally engaging and does the same thing previous albums do is, of course, different for every person. For me it does not. For my group of friends, the resounding answer is the same.

I think my emotional involvement with Baroness runs so deep that it is impossible to divorce the new direction from my own visions and future for the band. Listening to this record is a chore with only begrudging instances of praise. I know it would have been impossible for the band to stay static and repeat the success of the Red Album. The Blue Record was a progression which untimely yielded something great. Perhaps the band will move on to something else in the future. Maybe I’ll look into it. Maybe I won’t.

There has been no other band, like Baroness, which has given me the same type of camaraderie which was used to define my relationships. Perhaps that is why I wanted this record to be so great, to preserve some sense of my adulthood and yet not force me to grow up. Maybe my own disappointment in Baroness is the slow realization that things which once defined my life have ceased to be important to everyone around me.

I have seen people ecstatic over Yellow & Green calling it one of the best albums of the early decade. I am happy for them. Perhaps they, for a moment, can experience something that was so special for my friends and I for a brief time period. Grab a hold of that young friend and never let go. At times I think things could be easier if I wasn’t so invested in music but then things wouldn’t be half as fun.

I have heard this record grows on its listener and in a few months of attentive listening I will have changed my opinion. I sure hope so. Farewell Baroness.

Tape Wyrm XXVII: Baroness - Yellow & Green , reviewed by Kaptain Carbon on 2012-07-16T04:26:10+00:00 rating 2.5 out of 5



4 Responses about “Tape Wyrm XXVII: Baroness – Yellow & Green”

  • Charles says:

    I never did like this band, though this historical assessment definitely helps me understand why so many were shocked at my dismissal.
    Also, we’re still writing songs about morphine?
    Do people actual DO morphine?
    Those lyrics are an insult to my balls.

  • ZeagleFiend says:

    I’ve only listened to ‘Take My Bones Away’ so far, and it gave me absolutely no inclination to go any further with this album. I found the song unforgivably turgid, swampy and go-nowhere – and as someone who likes doom and sludge metal, as well as drone music, it’s saying a lot that ANYTHING can be too turgid, swampy or go-nowhere for me.

    I’ve only really been sporadically interested in Baroness over the years, and nothing has ever appeared as a catalyst to make me try and seriously get to grips with their discography.

    What I do find vaguely interesting is your picking-up of the fact that the term “non-metal” is used as a derogatory term more frequently than one would expect in metal criticism and journalism. I think your examples are a bit off – *Bleach* is not the same kind of “not metal” as *Blue Record* – but your correct in acknowledging that, by many fans, the very act of a metal band mellowing out is considered a downhill move (witness Anathema).

  • ZeagleFiend says:

    * YOU’RE correct, arghh.

  • Mat says:

    This was the best review I have read of the album(s). I am just now trying it again and having no luck. I wish Baroness the best, but this is just terrible. There are a few parts of it that are beautiful, but it is depressing in its mediocrity.

    I am really glad that someone is finally pointing out all of the blind love for this album(s). Red and Blue are two of my all time favorite albums, and it is hard to believe that the same band that created those masterpieces has now created an album(s) with disco beats in some of its songs.

    Thank you for the great, and honest, review.