From extreme metal proving grounds to alt-rock stardom, Savannah, Georgia’s Baroness has continually explored their horizons to widespread acclaim. The multi-faceted quartet sustains a do-it-yourself aesthetic that has pushed them through over ten years of trudging and triumph. In fact, their recent happenings are a true testament to their longevity. After releasing their career-defining double album Yellow and Green in 2012, Baroness received an even bigger dose of honest-to-goodness success. The album charted in the Top 30 in the United States right at its debut and was even hailed as Metal Album of the Year by Spin magazine. However, just one month later, the band found themselves in a devastating bus accident of surpassing proportions: the impact of a 30-foot drop from a viaduct in Bath, England. Eleven of its passengers were injured to variable degrees while everyone—including the four band members—miraculously survived. A three-year recovery period would warrant the creation of a new album, Purple, their most concise and explosive album to date.
Guitarist/vocalist Pete Adams emphasized the album’s ultimate goal in a press release, “We needed to be melodic, and it also needed to be aggressive. In all of that, I think we were able to get out everything we felt, all of the emotion involved–everything from being angry to wanting to continue to push forward.” What resulted was a refined lineup featuring new members Nick Jost (bass and keyboards) and drummer Sebastian Thompson. Additionally, the album sports a perfectly fitting rough-hewn production quality to signify the damage done. As the album begins with “Morningstar,” the band delivers on their vow of making the album thrust forward in equal melody and aggression. Its riffs are knife-like, but controlled, knowing when to assert a substantial background and foreground presence. The setup of the instrumentation perfectly encapsulates the feeling of momentary disarray before and after the incident. Frontman John Baizley takes a nosedive of faith, facing the looming uncertainty of death with confidence. On the track to follow, “Shock Me,” the band is clearly astonished as to how they survived. The song’s concept involving a defender having an upper hand over the aggressor is cleverly expressed. It plays as a test to prove the morality of putting one’s vulnerability on display. But from a more sensible standpoint, it also challenges the notion of a fast recovery time from simply having a positive outlook. As a single, this unsurprisingly became one of the band’s most popular songs. And through its up-tempo pacing and hooky chorus, that choice is justified. Keeping within the same vein is the third track, “Try to Disappear,” which packs more than enough sonic and lyrical depth through its streamlined structure. The guitars and percussion are consistently driving at the peak of heaviness, and do much to elevate Baizley’s vocals. It is by the song’s chorus that the full extent of anguish is expressed, and the track generally deserves more of a push by listeners than it already has.
At the middle of the album, the force accumulated from consistent headbanging is calmed by the short instrumental “Fugue.” There’s a smooth-jazz infused briskness about it that makes its every moment refreshing and enjoyable. Even the apparent flub at the end of the solo gives an interesting cue of the heaviness to return, although it is subtle and takes its time. As the mellowed textures linger into the next track, “Chlorine & Wine,” the listener is prepared for an experience showcasing growth, maturity, and a persistent fighting spirit. The title itself speaks volumes, giving depth to a period proving both relaxing and dreadful at the same time. Its main melody is initially created by a bed of lush piano chords, and achieves equal impact upon its transition to guitar. The harmonized lead fills during the chorus are especially bright and joyous as they complement the quality of the vocals. On the subsequent instrumental break which is full of clean guitars, there is a sense of blissful relief, as well as an appreciation for all that the band has accomplished. “Iron Bell” is perhaps the most straightforward track on the album, its rather repetitious lyrical flow actually coming off as memorable given its brilliant punk energy. The depth is still present by all means, where Baizley accepts who he is despite being in an emotionally debilitated state. On the eighth track, “Desperation Burns,” the outlook shifts from pained to something leaning toward manageable. Nick Jost’s bass tone on this track is incredibly chunky and prominent, giving the guitars a hearty boost. I really felt as though the song gave insight into the band’s longing to break from confinement and return to making music. Such eagerness is rightfully put toward writing; all the while collaborative efforts between members stay closely intact. By the penultimate track, “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain),” the tone of the instrumentation shifts again, more or less resembling a continuation of “Fugue.” Although the band’s battle toward recovery has ended, uncertainty is still felt whether or not they will be openly embraced upon return. I appreciated how the heavy guitars didn’t kick in until only the last minute or so, emitting the essence of pure satisfaction and a subsequent restoration of faith. As a means of expressing victory, the 17-second “Crossroads of Infinity” brings the album to an interestingly subdued, yet satisfying climax.
Overall, Purple is a milestone of sincerity in today’s rock industry. The incredibly warm reception it has received since its release was not only due to the Baroness’s delivery of a true successor, but also for their inadvertently making an otherwise unpolished album commercially viable. Its color is representative both as a badge of bravery, and to the idea that anyone can emerge stronger than ever once they have successfully conquered their demons.