BARONESS goes more epic than ever before with “Stone”.

Written by Album Review, Chronique, Featured

The art of transcending your legacy. Of all the East American bands that followed the path created by Mastodon in this highly specific post-sludge sub-genre, taking the best from thrash and 80’s punk hardcore, grunge and sludge from the ’90s and adding a big dose of prog, Baroness has always been the one that speaks to me the most. Maybe it’s simply because there’s an honesty in the songwriting of John Baizley and his crew that touches my heart and soul. A little something that makes it that when I hear a prog part, I don’t think to myself “Oh it’s been thought to alternate between x and y rhythms and lead to a cascade of chords and a tonality change of whatever”. I much rather feel like it’s just the way it came to be, like an instinct, an illumination of sorts. And so I see Baroness as this band that excels in spotting and encapsulating this little glimpse of pure grace.

They’re back after three albums and two double albums that granted them an iconic status. Not only due to their memorable monochrome artworks but mostly thanks to their many songs that became legendary. This time around, a chapter gets closed. They’re done with the color palette-defining albums. Done with benefiting a line up change to reinvigorate the project. The rhythm section has been here for 10 years and Gina has long proved herself to be the perfect musical match for John.  So how does one find a new spark to reinvent themselves without losing their identity? Let’s check this with this new album, simply called “Stone”.

With this record, it’s not just a question of adding a stone to the building that is their discography. It is rather a time to leave a permanent mark through the ages. This stone might erode and suffer the passing of time, it will outlive all of us. Therefore this album has been long thought, matured, and worked on while over the recent years, “Purple” was a post-traumatic reaction while “Gold and Grey” felt like a full-on sonic experiment, fascinating but uneven. “Stone” must synthesize all that Baroness offered so far and yet endorse what Baroness will be for the upcoming decade. With such ambition and expectations, you already know it took quite a few spins to fully apprehend this new record.

Let’s start things off by discussing the elephant in the room. Baroness does not try or play pretend anymore, they rather dare. While experimentations have always been there, they were rather discrete on previous records. Here, they take the spotlights. Of course there’s the Van Hallen like solo, all recorded in a single jammed take by Gina on “Last Word”, all the spoken words vocals ala Rollins on “Beneath the Rose” and “The Choir”, or even this murmured, skin deep singing on “Under The Wheel”, the almost detuned harmonized voices that guide us through the record on “Embers”, “Bloom”, “The Dirge” (and counter balancing a musical industry that has more and more problems with assonances). It’s all “in your face” and screaming at you like Gina literally does on “Beneath the Rose”.

The band does not take on these escapades to prove something to themselves but simply because that’s what they think fits best for this or that part. The reason why Baroness can have fun breaking their own codes is because they also deliver for the Baronessesque aspects on the record. We have our massive riffs on “Beneath The Rose”, our harmonized guitar leads on“Anodyne”, our touch of prog on “Shine” and our epic rollercoaster masterpiece with “Magnolia”.

I need to stop a second here to go into further detail about this gem of a song. More so than the rest of the album, it gets better the more you listen to it. Magnolia is a complex mix, one of those tracks on which each part seems completely independent and we can’t imagine how they’ll work together. A chimera of sorts and yet so incredibly coherent when we look at the bigger picture.

A quiet intro based on natural harmonics and stunning vocal harmonies. The acoustic guitars are completed by this very upfront drum pattern. A few notes of synths and this insane fretless bass line come to fill in the gaps. It’s followed by a typical Baroness riff, full of tension and harmonies, unexpected turns and hiccups, and a very simple and catchy chorus leaving all the space for the lead vocals.  Comes a very soft bridge before we jump back into the main riff and already we are offered an epic crescendo where all the instrumental lines blend and clash into each other before a final chorus. And when we think we’ve heard all the song had to offer, it’s the rhythm section that comes back like a steamroller for a final tension lap. The singing ends along with a glimpse of shoegazy guitars, mirroring the intro. It’s simply grandiose and we come out of these 8 minutes a little groggy but obviously in love.

When looking at themes, Baroness plays with dichotomy here. If the music is globally luminous, filled with a bit of melancholy but still hopeful, the texts are amongst the darkest the band ever released. It is a bit of the “Anti Purple” on that end. Finally, for the artwork, John Baizley had a lot of fun blending in all the colors from the past records even if Blue and Purple overall dominate. Anyway, if you love his Post Modern Mucha approach, you’ll love it as always.

A word on the production, once again the band did it all by themselves but they left out the garage-y and blurry production they had on the two last records for more clarity and articulation without trying to sound too powerful. Some might feel it lacks a bit of punch but as I already gave my vinyl way too many spins, I can say this mix allows for every idea to shine, be heard and appreciated while keeping alive the internal fire that makes Baroness Baroness.

While this is not the record that will please the old school fans, anyone who enjoyed the last decade of the Baroness discography will be convinced by this ambitious, honest, direct and well-built album. It’s important to note that this is not an easy listening album and with the absence of a big easy hit, you will need several listens to fully grasp all “Stone” has to offer but believe me, it’s gonna be worth every second!

ARTIST: Baroness
ALBUM: Stone
RELEASED: 15th September 2023
GENRE: Prog heavy
LABEL: Abraxan Hymns
MORE: Bandcamp - Website

Last modified: 6 November 2023