Revisiting Purple by Baroness

The fifth album is on the way in 2019. Somewhere between the third and the fourth I visited my uncle’s house and clacked my way through his CD collection and discovered, belatedly, Baroness.

Like many, my entry point was the 2012 double album, Yellow & Green, which I borrowed along with records by Dissection and Morbid Angel. I knew little of John Baizley and Baroness, but I liked what I heard.

With Red Album and Blue Record already out in the world, complete with Baizley’s stunning cover art, the end of 2015 brought the latest addition to the Baroness rainbow.

Purple picked up eights and nines in reviews all over the place, its increased mainstream appeal not dampening the critical enthusiasm even slightly.

Purple tears out of the blocks with the frantic opening bars of ‘Morningstar’, which develops into a riffy, pulsing beast of a song in which drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist Nick Jost’s seamless integration into their new band is confirmed.

It’s followed by ‘Shock Me’, to date the peak of the band’s critical recognition. It was nominated for a Grammy and stands out – even on a Baroness record of this quality – as the best, most mainstream-ready, smartest song.

‘Try To Disappear’ is next and gives even ‘Shock Me’ a run for its money in the accessibility and chorus stakes. In these first three songs, Purple establishes is character and its claim to be the definitive Baroness album.

Yellow & Green in particular puts up a fight in my personal reckoning, not least because it was the first Baroness record I heard. In any case, ranking them is academic. When Baizley lets rip the first chorus of ‘Try To Disappear’ it just doesn’t matter.

Purple never quite hits the hooky heights of ‘Shock Me’ and ‘Try To Disappear’ again; it’s an album that trusts its listener to go with it, to explore with it, to be rewarded with strength in depth that must be the envy of any other band in what we might loosely term progressive sludge metal. (It’s not that really, though, is it?)

‘Chlorine & Wine’ was released as a single but it’s ‘Desperation Burns’ that carries the mainstream burden for the second half of the album. For all its stomping riffage it’s just a crushing hard rock song, albeit somewhat bleak in outlook.

There’s plenty of justifiable excitement about the next Baroness record. The band are in fine form on wax and apparently on stage too, with a Grammy nomination under their belts. Gina Gleason, who replaced Pete Adams on guitar in 2017, brings a new dimension to the backing vocals.

But it’s got something special to follow, and that’s both a positive and a negative. With confidence, momentum and quality up the yingyang, you wouldn’t bet against Baroness.

Purple came out on Abraxan Hymns in 2015.

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Chris Nee