While Purple is an obvious evolutionary step from Yellow & Green, there are shades of another color themed metal record.
The bus crash that nearly killed the members of Baroness has been well documented, but a few odd details were obscured in the fiery remains, most notably how damn prophetic the band was in the months leading up to the accident. Ringleader John Baizley, in an interview with Brandon Stosuy, said that he wanted the album art work for Yellow & Green to convey, “this implication of horror, or ‘this is the moment before a car crash,’ or the moment after a car crash.” The album itself seemed clairvoyant, with Baizley singing “My bones begin to break/ And my head begins to shake/ It’s my own blood” on centerpiece “EULA.” So after predicting, surviving and recovering from such trauma, how does a band carry itself into the future?
Triumphantly! Purple, although tinged with horror, is the group’s most melodically complex work, and roars with rage and passion at every turn. This is physical and emotional therapy, boisterous, messy and, above all, cathartic.
Before the crash, the conversation around Baroness centered on its sound development from Blue to Yellow & Green. Some in the metal community accused the band of selling out for the more classic rock infused sound that it had sharpened, pushing aside some of its more hardcore traits. Though Yellow & Green found plenty of critical love, it’s easy to understand some of the complaints launched at the “new” group. Red and Blue are landmark sludge metal albums that stand up next to seminal works from Mastodon or Kylesa. Those complaining are really not going to like Purple. It’s the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a Baroness pop album. Don’t worry, they do get spectacularly heavy here, but much like fellow metal polymaths Torche, Baroness aren’t afraid to fuse other rock n’ roll motifs into their core sound.
While Purple is an obvious evolutionary step from Yellow & Green, there are shades of another color themed metal record. Some of the DNA from Metallica’s Black Album pops up in surprising places. There’s not a “Nothing Else Matters” on the record, but the shortened song times, massive choruses and shimmering production all point to influence from Metallica’s biggest and most polarizing release. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Purple ends up being Baroness’ own Black Album (though hopefully with no Saint Anger in the future). The entwining guitars further cement the comparison, and Baizley has some very James Hetfield moments in his vocal delivery. Baizley’s voice is a strange creature though. Revisiting the band’s early records, it’s hard to imagine what training Baizley went through to morph his vocal cords. He’s still got some of the blackened howl in his throat, but his delivery on Purple shows him to be perhaps the best anthemic male singer in metal. “Kerosene,” despite the title, crashes down in waves, opening with a torrent of quicksilver drums and eventually bursting into a massive chorus ushered in by blinding guitar work and a sudden shift that, if this wasn’t metal, could count as a “drop.” In the same speedy vein, “The Iron Bell” rushes along like a speed-metal Foo Fighters.
But there’s another unfortunate parallel to draw between Black Album and Purple; both feel a bit anemic in comparison to their older kin. Clocking in at around 42 minutes, Purple comes up with far too much filler. The second half stumbles badly with lead single “Chorine & Wine,” which has about three minutes of ideas but soldiers on for nearly seven. Closing tracks “Desperation Burns” and “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain?),” are merely serviceable tracks from a band that usually delivers epics.
Thankfully, delivers on the Baroness tradition of producing at least one song of the year contender per album. “Shock Me” opens with a haunting organ line before exploding as Baizley shouts the most badass lyrics he’s written yet: “In a battle, you only brought your shield/ I picked the nearest blade I found/ To meet you in the field.” It’s all Viking blood and claymores here, with the music matching the lyric’s intensity. The chemistry between Baizley and guitarist Pete Adams is at its strongest here, with the bridge turning into a maelstrom of swirling guitars. New members Nick Jost (bass) and Sebastian Thomson (drums) prove themselves to be much more than replacements; they are vital parts to this wonderful sum. This is pop-metal at its finest, instantly catchy and perfect to sing or scream along to, but with lead heavy instruments churning along the entire time.
“Shock Me” is a brilliant but frustrating taste of what the album could, and should, have been. Hints of something sublime are covered with filler and metal tracks that are good rather than great. The product doesn’t quite meet the pedigree, but that’s only because the bar was set so high. Purple will go down as an above average rock album from a band that could have done more, but it will also be remembered as the sound of a band rising from the ashes.