Friday, September 14, 2007

Baroness - Red Album (2007)

Despite a relatively meager output of two EPs and a split release Baroness have already built themselves a formidable reputation in sludge circles and across the metal spectrum in general. It's no surprise therefore that their debut full length has become one of the most anticipated releases of the year. With First and Second setting such high expectations for the band the Red Album has some pretty big shoes to fill.

To get it out of the way, the Mastodon comparisons are unavoidable; the Southern-tinged progressive sludge genre isn't exactly flooded. First and Second managed to seamlessly blend the rawking sludge aggression of Remission with the proggier sensibilities of Leviathan whilst still retaining a unique flair. Interestingly enough Red Album appears to have followed Blood Mountain in so much as Baroness have cleaned themselves up and gone a bit more Rush and a little less EyeHateGod.

The trademark interwoven melodies and pissed off lumberjack vocals are still all there, but it's with less crunch and more widdle. Opener 'Rays On Pinion' is a much more subdued affair than either 'Tower Falls' or 'Red Sky' with slow building tribal-like tom work and clean leads that flutter about like moths to a flame. Even when it kicks in the expected aggression is eschewed for a more focused drive. The album as a whole feels more streamlined, the band have matured and honed their sound with each passage flowing smoothly to the next with military precision. Each note feels meticulously crafted but not forced. They've taken the Mastodon style southern licks from songs like 'Megalodon' and 'Crusher Destroyer' and extrapolated them , carrying them through to a conclusion in 'The Birthing'. The instrumental piece 'Cockroach En Fleur' is evocative of Tony Furtado's trademark slide piece 'Cypress Grove' and closing track (excluding the hidden one) 'Grad' comes across like an up tempo Earth circa Hex.... Even Welch's gruff vocals now soar over the top with subtle melody, rather than barking from beneath.

Baroness have clearly hit their stride and Red Album is the triumphant culmination of their efforts to date and an impressive excerise in diversity. It takes a few listens to readjust and let it all sink in and the maturation of the sound may loose a few fans among those who were longing for a sludgier full length. However, this release sees them stepping out of Mastodon's shadow with their own unique take on the genre.


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