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Baroness - Purple

Baroness - PurpleIn 2011 American band Baroness were riding high on the back of not one but two superb albums, Yellow and Green, which were gaining critical acclaim throughout the world. However in August 2012 the band's tour bus crashed near Bath while heading towards a gig in Southampton. Nine people were hurt, two seriously, when the bus fell 30 feet from a viaduct in pouring rain after it's brakes failed. The subsequent recovery derailed the band's momentum and both drummer Allan Bickley and bass guitarist Matt Maggioni subsequently left the band.

After recovering from a badly broken arm and leg, John Baizley and cohort Pete Adams were left to pick up the pieces of their band and nearly four years on from their last, dual release, comes Purple. The album opens with some gorgeous twin guitar work, reminiscent of Thin Lizzy at their best. Quickly joined by a dexterous drum beat, Morningstar accelerates away from the starting line and never looks back, disappearing over the horizon in a big plume of dust whilst sticking two fingers up to any doubters. This first track is pacey and marvellously rhythmic, propelled forward by huge, chunky riffs and a rumbling bass while every now and again that twin lead rises out of the noise like a whale cresting the waves. The impassioned vocals are buried deep in the mix, fighting for space with the instruments giving the song a, tight, claustrophobic feel.

Shock Me is ushered in with gentle piano and an undulating keyboard pattern before kicking off just as ferociously as Morningstar with watertight rhythms and a hugely catchy chorus. There's an instrumental break which sounds like Kyuss channelling Hawkwind followed by a beautiful solo before the song crashes and burns. Try To Disappear is slower, more measured as it builds, the vocals soaring above the staccato riffs before the band revert to more thunderous rhythmic interplay. Another superb, ascending dual solo demonstrates just how good the guitarists are.

Kerosene's insistent riff and earthquake inducing bass rampage away like a herd of angry elephants while the echoey, in-your-face vocals add colour as does what sounds suspiciously like twanging banjos. A tale of loss and longing, this superb song bleeds gently into Fugue with it's piano motif, jangly guitar and requiem pace. Atmospheric, eerie and full of strange sounds this short instrumental acts as a prelude to Purple's centerpiece, Chlorine And Wine. This expansive track shows how Baroness have progressed as a band. Gentle rhythms move the song slowly like waves lapping at the shore and the gorgeous guitar work builds to the addition of the vocals which reek of an aching loss. You will be humming the remarkably catchy riff from this for weeks as it picks you up and gently spins you around in the eddies of a drug induced numbness.

As Chlorine And Wine builds and builds towards a triumphant climax you suddenly realise how much Baroness have matured as a band. Much of Purple is very accessible without sacrificing the integrity, intensity  or inventiveness of the music. Every track has deft touches, a little riff here, a strange sound effect there, that mark Baroness out as different and special. You can tell that making music is important to them, never more so than after their accident. They have used the making of this album as therapy and brought us all along for the journey. The lyrics seem to indicate that the mental scars have been harder to heal than the physical ones: "The taste was much sweeter than chlorine and wine and my doctor’s unable to cut through cable that leads to my mind".

The Iron Bell and Desperation Burns are classic Baroness, timeless tunes that twist and turn, the music rock solid and heavy. The discordant guitars weaving their complex patterns through the crashing drums and throbbing bass, the distorted solos and the thrilling ride to the former's song's end where it collides with the latter. The album concludes with the gentle, gorgeous If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain). One of the most most passionate vocal performances this is a tale that seems to obliquely reference that day in 2012. Slow and sonorous, chiming guitars and an understated rhythm section add an air of restraint as the song ends in a welter of strange electronic noises, bleeps and an alien voice announcing "I've done it, I'm drifting into a world of limitless dimensions!", the last 15 seconds of which make up the albums coda, Crossroads Of Infinity.

Not as gargantuan an effort as Yellow and Green, Purple is relatively short, at a little under 43 minutes, but it's very much quality not quantity that counts here. As stated in recent interviews the recording studio was an escape from the memories of what happened to Baroness in the crash and it's aftermath and those events hang heavy over this album, despite Nick Jost and Sebastian Thomson not being in the band when the accident happened. And what of the new members? Both are obviously superb musicians who seem to have fitted in seamlessly. Nick's bass sound is huge throughout and Sebastian's drumming is wonderfully unrestrained, whilst still being very tight at the same time. The guitar work of Pete and John is superb right through the album with every song containing wonderfully inventive riffs, lots of the aforementioned Thin Lizzy-esque dual guitar playing and beautifully executed solos which are never too indulgent and always fit the context of the song. John and Pete's vocals are often a little submerged in the mix and the lyrics, as ever, are strange and oblique but their uniquely characterful voices can still be heard, often in sumptuous harmony.

Production by David Fridmann and the band themselves is minimal and raw giving the album a garage band wall of noise feel to it. Less polished than it's predecessors you can still hear all the instruments clearly which is no mean feat. Keyboards, piano, bells a Wurlitzer Electric Piano and even a Glockenspiel are used to add splashes of colour to the songs and, as already mentioned, this album shows a more mature and capable Baroness both in songwriting and playing. The album's distinctive artwork has once again been created by Baizley and follows the Purple theme of the album's title... a reference to the physical and mental bruises suffered by the band maybe.

For a band who have been through so much in the last few years Purple is a triumph and Baroness deserve to make up all the momentum they lost on that August morning and a whole lot more besides.

Released: 18.12.15

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