Baroness - Yellow And Green

Even amidst the ridiculously fertile and fun Georgia metal scene, Baroness have always stood out because they’ve figured out how to be heavy and approachable at the same time. Debut LP Red Album brought sledgehammer riff-churns, but it married them to a sense of reaching-for-infinity melodic lift that few other underground metal bands even attempt, and it did so without sounding disjointed or compromising its own heaviness. It’s a happy alphabetical accident that Baroness always showed up next to Band Of Horses in my iTunes; the two bands could bleed right into each other without me even noticing for a few songs. Since Red Album, they’ve steadily become even friendlier, to the point where it almost doesn’t make sense to call them a metal band anymore. At this point, they’re metal by association, and because frontman John Baizley looks like a swamp monster, and because nobody knows what the fuck else to call them.

In talking about Yellow & Green, the new one, I’ve seen fellow critics use the word “pop,” or talk about how radio-friendly they’ve become, but that doesn’t seem quite right to me. After all, no pop station in the country — no commercial radio station, really — would come anywhere near these guys; they have nothing to do with the way radio sounds now. But in his great Spin review of Yellow & Green, Chris Weingarten does a great job locating where they come from: The stretched-out ’90s alt-metal moment where bands with big riffs and bigger ideas got bazillion-dollar recording contracts. And it’s true: The 13-year-old me would’ve flipped his shit for “Board Up The House,” with its stumbling riff and its skyward chorus. The 32-year-old me eats it up, too — partly because nothing sounds like this anymore, but mostly because Baroness are just great at widescreen churn.

Baroness name all their albums after colors, a doofy affectation that only a metal-reared band would have the awesome bad taste to try. And as you may have guessed from the title, Yellow & Green is actually a double album, one that splits neatly between halves. And as such, it’s a seriously generous piece of work: 75 minutes and two full-length albums, when everyone would’ve been happy with just one or the other. I say “generous” because the album’s length and scope never feel indulgent. Instead, Baroness have mastered the whole Explosions In The Sky thing where you can walk around, listening to them on headphones, and marvel at how much more epic and beautiful everything suddenly is. Indeed, long stretches of Yellow & Green sound something like Explosions In The Sky, all that intricately sparkling guitar interplay hinting at grand, inexpressible feelings.

Yellow & Green might work best as an atmospheric record, with all its dream-float acoustic interludes meaning as much as its heaviest moments. And this isn’t an Opeth, where the transitions from expansive prog-folk to death-metal roar are self-consciously jarring, where the sharp twists are in some ways the point. Baroness make plenty of stylistic left turns on Yellow & Black, but all those changes feel fluid and instinctive and earned. The quietest and loudest parts don’t even sound that different from each other; it all exists along the same continuum. It’s a big, meaty, intuitive rush of an album. And if you’ve been avoiding it because it’s a titanic 75-minute double-LP from a metal band who shares its name with a G.I. Joe character, give it a shot anyway; albums this warm and inviting, in any genre, don’t come along too often.

Yellow & Green is out now on Relapse. Stream it here.

Other albums of note out today:

• Nas’s occasionally fearsome return Life Is Good.
• JEFF The Brotherhood’s chunky, hooky bro-punk LP Hypnotic Knights.
• Gatekeeper’s intensely dark beat-music album EXO.
• Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s Tim Armstrong-produced comeback effort Rebirth.
• The Very Best’s joyously global dance-pop party MTMTMK.
• Alchemist’s dense and long producerly conceptual psych-rap experiment Russian Roulette.
• Shintaro Sakamoto’s psych-pop solo debut How To Live With A Phantom.
• Icky Blossoms’ Dave Sitek-produced self-titled electro-pop debut.
• The regional psych-rock compilation In A Cloud II: New Sounds From San Francisco.
• Com Truise’s rarities collection In Decay.

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Comments (23)
  1. I love the review, but Grayson Currin is kind of totally right in calling you out on the Band of Horses thing.

    • I’d say he intentionally didn’t call him out, but should have realized someone (you) would do it on his behalf.

      • He said it made him sad, and then retweeted some jokes about it. I was agreeing with him that it was a strained comparison and kind of a daffy device. But if you want to take issue with the way I phrased it, no, I suppose Grayson didn’t ride into Tom’s court and challenge one of his knights to a game of mutual beheading, so “called him out” might not be dead-on.

        • I know what he said, just as much as I’m sure he knows how to “@” someone or add a comment here, and would have had he wanted to. I don’t take issue with the way you phrased it, I think it’s lame you did altogether.
          It’s not a big deal, I just think it was an unnecessary rat move.

  2. When one combines the colors Yellow and Green they get Brown. The color of poop.

    I like this album though, it’s not poopy.

  3. Added to the queue. This is one of those bands that I’ve always been meaning to listen to, but haven’t gotten around to. Thanks Tom!

  4. “nobody knows what the fuck else to call them” – including the (national chain) record store near my work, which for some reason decided to file this record in the Punk section.

  5. i just want to know why people are continuing to grapple with whatever “new” sound they’re hearing from this record. it’s true the edges are smoothed over, vocals raises a few dBs, but no matter what anyone says, this is still a metal record. and for the most part, all three records sound alike

    so stop trying to find bad things to say about this record, it’s one of the best of the year

    • Agreed that this is one of the best records of the year, but gonna have to disagree about it being very metal. I’m hearing a lot of grunge and a fair bit of classic rock influence, but there’s none of the throat-shredding roaring as on “Isak” or “Sweetest Curse” and not a whole lot of the low-end sludge riffing as on “The Birthing” and “War, Wisdom and Rhyme”. But yeah, the weird pretty undertones have always been part of the appeal of Baroness, so I don’t understand the complaints, it’s just that now the weird prettiness is the focus, with metal undertones.

      • I agree. I wouldnt call this album “metal” at all. I love the Red & Blue album and I admire their courage to do an almost 360 deg turn on the music style.

        Some songs work, some songs dont, but overall its a Baroness album that I can enjoy as much as the previous two.

        • Yeah, a “progressive rock” tag would suffice here. The eased-over corners kind of remind me of what happened to Cave In on Antenna, and this is almost like that transition if their transition was exponentially better. (I’ll take this chance to say that Antenna is a pretty underrated album.) Metal purists are so finicky anyway, and yet no one has any issue with calling everything “punk” these days. To takeaway here is that it’s a genre-transcending effort that is very, very good and might crossover to new listeners.

      • after listening past the first 3 songs, i guess i’d have to agree – it’s almost as if the band intentionally morphed the record into something totally non-metal after the first few songs

        you got to admit, though! those first 2 or 3 tracks are metal

        • I still don’t know if I’d go so far to call this metal, even on the first 2 or 3 tracks. To me, this is the definition of “Hard Rock,” or dare I say, “Alternative Rock.” I would further define this genre as “What absolutely begs to be heard on my local ‘Alternative Rock’ station.”

          Which, I might add, *I do not think is a bad thing at all.* In fact, I absolutely LOVE this album, and I WISH that my local radio station would play this so more people would be exposed to the awesomeness of it, instead of the corporate cock rock garbage that has tarnished what otherwise *could* be the good name of *genuine* Hard Rock.

          • To go a bit further: on this album I hear Zeppelin (“Twinkler”) and Floyd (“Green Theme”), not Sabbath.

            And earlier I was thinking- “Yellow and Green” : “Blue” :: “The Hunter” : “Blood Mountain”

  6. Maybe you can make a post about how to like metal?

  7. At least these guys don’t do the hilarious “I’m an evil leprechaun” scary metal voice.

  8. I also heard some 90s influence in there too, and couldn’t put my finger on it.

    Last night I realized that the vocals remind me of another heavy band that did a turn to “less-metal/more-alt” territory in the 90s: Corrosion of Conformity. Some of the vocals and quite a few of the guitar licks brought to mind their albums Blind and Deliverance, which I love.

  9. The tone of Yellow reminds me of Challenge for A Civilized Society by Unwound. Definitely one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year.

  10. It’s no Avenged Sevenfold, but I can dig it.

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