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BARONESS Gold & Grey

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, June 14, 2019 @ 8:35 AM

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Gold & Grey

Abraxan Hymns

Gold & Grey marks something of a beginning and end for Georgia hard rockers BARONESS. It is the first album with “new” guitarist Gina Gleason, who took over when Peter Adams left in 2017, and appears to be the last of the band’s color scheme-based - or “chromatically themed” – records, as frontman and cover artist John Baizley describes them.

Despite the predominantly orange hue of Baizley’s typically lavish cover painting here, Gold & Grey follows Red Album, Blue Record, Yellow & Green and 2016’s transitional Purple – as bassist Matt Maggioni and original drummer Allen Blickle left in the aftermath of a traumatic 2012 tour bus crash and were replaced by Nick Jost and Sebastian Thomson, respectively. And while this album comes after departure of Baizley’s next longest-serving bandmate, with Adams having joined in 2008, the sound and spirit of BARONESS again very much remains.

A lot of that has to do with Baizley and his capacity as creative director in just about all aspects of BARONESS’ being and the band’s lone constant. But at the same time, the new cast of characters that has joined over the past few years has allowed the band to do some sonic exploration. And that’s especially true here.

After the comparatively brash, yet undeniably evocative Purple, Gold & Grey offers more nuance scope and, well, color. And where Purple was relatively tidy, delivering its 10 tunes – including the 16-second outro “Crossroads of Infinity” - in a crunchy 42 minutes, Gold & Grey is an hour-long sprawl of 17 songs including nearly a half-dozen brief and mostly instrumental segues and interludes, or one track less than the double album Yellow & Green.

The album's breadth doesn't take long to reveal itself. Where “Front Toward Enemy” makes for a feisty opener, it is followed by the ethereal and relatively Spartan “I'm Already Gone” built around Jost's elliptical bass lines. “Seasons” then mashes up both approaches as its distant jangle of guitar and skittering drums eventually yield to crashing riffs and a surprising, though quick, blast-beaty sprint. The ebb and flow and starkly contrasting moods and tones grow more pronounced as things move along.

The acoustic intro and accompanying harmony vocals to “Tourniquet” echo PINK FLOYD or THE BEATLES before things grow far grittier and louder as the song moves along. The album doesn't really kick back into a more metallic mode until the raucous but catchy “Throw Me An Anchor”. But it is backed by one of the mellower, more melancholy tunes here in “I'd Do Anything” with its moody piano and acoustic guitar, hazy synths and plaintive vocals. It also kicks off a rather quiet stretch at the album's midpoint, marked by the equally sparse “Emmett-Radiating Light” and “Cold Blooded Angels”, which finally breaks the relative slumber with an amped up back half.

BARONESS then take the heaviness and run with it for a bit on the far more assertive “Broken Halo” and “Borderlines”, with their raw-boned, fuzzy riffing and clattering drums sandwiching the industrial-synth rock interlude “Can Obscura”. “Pale Sun” brings things to a close with an odd, but intriguing blend of BEACH BOYS-like harmonizing and CRAZY HORSE-era NEIL YOUNG feedback and noise and an amorphous structure that almost makes its seem like the band is making it up as it goes along.

Yet for all of the musical/stylistic territory BARONESS covers here, a rather ragged, uneven production and mix at times threatens to undo the band's hard work. Though never one of the “cleanest” sounding bands, the “dirtiness” here detracts from the overall experience. The instruments often seem like they are operating at different volumes, with the guitars – when they aren't scratchy or raspy – buried by the clangorous rhythms. The vocals are a series of peaks and valleys as well.

Unpolished is one thing, but Gold & Grey seems somehow unfinished – as if someone got handed the rough mixes and never completed the job. And it's puzzling why the band signed off on it as is. Still, the depth of material here is pretty impressive and the songs themselves are uniformly compelling, if not riveting – though the instrumentals wear out their welcome after the third or fourth one. The album captures the full range of a band at its creative peak, if only there was more clarity to let it all shine through.

3.5 Out Of 5.0

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