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.
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.