by Casey Boland
Advance word from the rock crit intelligentsia is that Baroness is the Next Big Heavy Thing. Of course they also said that about The Sword (a rather pebble-sized over-hyped entry into the "stoner rock" annals). Word of mouth from music writers is usually thinly veiled corporate-purchased PR anyway. But it's hard to deny the Ozzfest or Headbangers Ball opportunities on Baroness' horizon while listening to The Red Album. That isn't to say they've altered their sound to appeal to the Slipknot T-shirt wearing masses. Quite the contrary: Baroness perfected everything they've done before and created one of the finer debut full-lengths in recent memory. People far beyond the DIY underground will be sure to notice. On previous releases (First, Second, split with Unpersons), Savannah's heaviest trawled the thick, metal muck in similar fashion to locals Kylesa, Neurosis or the band they're most compared to, Mastodon. The band clearly took great strides to grow from their baby Mastodon status into a grown ass Baroness. They haven't altered the basic formula: their songs hinge on southern-fried metal riffs and thunderous bass and drum tempests, all winding through serpentine song structures. Previously these songs could sound like an album in and of themselves, at their worst coming off disjointed or forced. But on The Red Album, they explore the power of repetition. Most beneficial to the new record is the streamlining of the songwriting. No, they haven't enlisted the song doctors to prescribe healthy verse-chorus-verse ringtone ready jingles. But in contrast to much of their back catalog, each song does not feature a dozen plus parts. They've discovered the effectiveness of allowing their songs to flow. This gives both guitars room to explore in different directions and then converging for great NWOBHM sounding riff-frenzied moments. "Rays on Pinion" sums up The Red Album's assets: killer, catchy as mono in a game of spin the bottle riffs wailing atop a concrete solid bass line and tasteful drum patterns. The brief riff at 0:35 is easily the best moment of the entire record. A southern-style prog rock vignette, it's gone in seconds but latches onto the brain for weeks' worth of enjoyment. Had the entire record been as brilliant as that tiny burst of genius, we'd have the Biggest Rock Record of the decade on our hands. Immediately noticeable is the "sung" vocals found throughout. Indeed, the harsh Aaron Turner-like shouting remains. Yet equal vocal time is devoted to a newer, thick melodic style that sounds reminiscent of Steve Brooks of Torche/Floor. It works, in so far as Baroness (like Mastodon) have always been wanting for vocals as impressive as their music. They still haven't quite solved that dilemma, but they're improving. Vocals or not (nearly half the record is instrumental), Baroness glide through hulking metallic moments and proggier, quieter sections with aplomb. "Aleph" demonstrates this paradigm nicely, while "Cockroach En Fleur" is nothing more than finger-plucked acoustic down 'n dirty Deep South bluesy guitar. "Teeth of a Cogwheel" stomps along like an early 80s classic cock rock anthem, perhaps "Eye of the Tiger." Some of the material could have used a chop or two. Repetition has its place, but those of us not in the band (and/or smoking a spliff), may be hitting the scan button. Still, Baroness unload a heavy album displaying their tremendous instrumental prowess and an ever-increasing ability to craft memorable songs, a skill most metal bands of all stripes fail to perfect. Bottom Line: Those hungry for something special, something truly kick ass, something worth listening to in a time when most everything disappoints should check out The Red Album. It's easily Baroness' shining moment, though no song matches their towering classic, "Son of Sun."