It has been a few years since Baroness‘ last album, and I have been waiting patiently for them to come out with their follow up to their magnum opus, Purple. Gold & Grey (we all thought it was going to be Orange, the album art is mostly orange, but I guess nothing rhymes with orange) completes the chromatic themes of Baroness’ lineup of albums, each a work of art unto its own. The album, however, on paper, checks all the boxes of a great work of art, but I think there is something fundamentally amiss. Despite my willingness to love this album and my readiness to accept the crazy and exploratory avenues that Baroness might take, I just wasn’t feeling it. This really bothered me and I had to listen to the album a few more times before I could even figure out why. I found out that there are a number of factors that kept me from fully enjoying this album, some of this rests on the band’s shoulders, but most of it might be out of Baroness’ control.
The first and most glaring problem was in the production. I feel like I am not alone in this as I researched around the web to see if other reviewers shared my opinion. It’s true. The album was produced, mixed and recorded in some overblown fashion where all the sounds come together to form a flat wall of audio. In many of the louder parts of the album, the music tends to bleed or wash out and that really robs us of those intense moments. This shouldn’t be the case, because upon analyzing the music in its various components, it should have a rich, warm depth to it that doesn’t translate through our speakers. That is a real shame because I feel like the band is doing its darndest to give us a great experience and it gets killed before they even had a chance.
The next problem is that John Baizley is trying really hard to make sure we like Gina Gleason. I fucking love Gina Gleason, and she is one of the pre-eminent guitar players of this generation. I had the pleasure of seeing Baroness live a few months ago in Seattle and watching Gleason play was the highlight of the whole show. It seems that either the band or their PR guys are trying to shove Gleason in our faces as if we would not accept her organically. If you look at all of the pictures and watch the music videos, Gleason gets most of the screen real estate as the publicity guys salivate at the marketability of the dynamic. Gleason is starting to become the band’s gimmick, and I don’t think this was the intention at the beginning. I propose that Baroness had to replace a member of the band that helped to make Purple, and there was this fear that the audience would not accept anyone else. Maybe they were afraid they were going to have a Cliff Burton/Jason Newstead situation on their hands, I’m not sure. Whatever their reasons, I commend their choice for recruiting such a vast talent as Gleason, but instead of playing it cool, they went full tilt. It almost feels exploitative.
There is another major reason why I can’t fully appreciate Gold and Grey. That is, Big Business came out with The Beasts You Are in April 2019 and that album, which is in the same genre as Baroness, will completely overshadow anything that comes out this year. I was able to see Big Business play at the Crocodile last year and they BLEW MY FUCKING MIND! The main difference between these two bands is the drummer. Listening to Gold & Grey, I felt that the drums were monolithic, and there was a lot of playing it safe. There is an exception when Sebastian Thomson threw in about 2.5 seconds of a blast beat, but it is nothing compared to Coady Willis going HAM on a drum kit for two and a half hours straight. I still have The Beasts You Are playing heavily in my wheelhouse this year and Baroness didn’t have what it takes to unseat them.
All in all, I still very much love Baroness, and I like Gold & Grey. However, I don’t think I’ll be memorizing it as I did with Purple. Perhaps my previous comment about the color choice can act as a metaphor in some way. The colors gold and grey are cool, they are pretty hipstery and trendy, gold and grey are sound institutions. They should have gone with Orange, a color that has its own beauty but no one really thinks of it that way. Making Orange would have been more daring, more of a challenge, it demands risk and perseverance. Gold will always have value and grey comes with experience and timely wisdom. Gold and grey are safety, orange a danger. The choice of colors reflects the music and perhaps that’s the greatest reason I can’t totally get behind this album.
Hey, don’t take my word for it, go listen to it yourself! And be sure to check out Baroness live in concert coming to a venue near you!
Born and raised in San Diego California, I grew up loving the action horror and sci-fi genres. The first R rated film I saw was Predator back when I was 8 years old. Aliens blew me away as a youngster and I made a M41-A pulse rifle out of paper towel rolls and rubber bands. I ran around for hours avoiding face huggers and blasting xenomorphs in my back yard and I am bringing that big imagination to Nevermore Horror.