As more bands defy genre limitations, a slew of sub- and microstyles have sprung up to corral the unruly creative types. Try as anyone might, though, there's just no pigeonholing the Savannah, Ga., quartet Baroness. Variously deemed "sludge metal" and "hero metal," the band isn't even strictly metal. Its new second album, Blue Record, combines punk and hardcore influences with newfound shades of prog and psych. How exactly, then, does the group describe itself?
"I really don't know how we would categorize ourselves," says singer-guitarist John Baizley, a visual artist whose work graces the albums and T-shirts of Baroness and other bands. "There's definitely an element of heavier music, like metal, but the same could be said about classic rock or folk."
That's no exaggeration. Blue Record mixes things up remarkably, complete with spoken-word chills on "O'er Hell and Hide" — which has an almost danceable beat — and acoustic guitar on several tracks. There are lengthy instrumental stretches, during which you can feel the four players exploring the possibilities of their growing powers. Baizley's husky lead vocals are commanding, but used sparingly. Ditto blazing riffs, hurricane drumming, and anything else expected of a would-be metal band.
"When we started, we very firmly established that we wouldn't find ourselves beholden to any rules or strictures," Baizley says. "It's interesting for us to use established playing styles and musical mechanisms, but to not have to follow typical patterns."
Formed in 2003, Baroness is now on its third guitarist — Peter Adams, who joined last year — and is completed by bassist Summer Welch and Brooklyn-based drummer Allen Blickle. The band kicked off its discography with simply titled EPs First and Second before signing to the high-profile Philadelphia label Relapse for 2007's Red Album. That was a solid outing, but it pales in comparison to Blue Record, which reaches for wider horizons and showcases tighter, more intricate playing. It's a refinement of the group's diverse sound, clean and controlled at all times. And despite some lyrics bordering on the realm of medieval fantasy, Blue Record is perfect for metal neophytes. In fact, there's an appealing melodic core to the constant adrenaline rush.
Yet the elephant in the room is those album titles, which could have been lifted from the Weezer playbook. Not so, Baizley says: "Our record is lyrically, musically, and visually dense. [We gave] it a title that was easy for people who may be put off by an ultradense title. If it was going to be some 23-word thing that encapsulated every theme, it'd just be a mess."
In other words, why complicate the one thing that doesn't need to be complicated, especially when it's the primary point of entry to the music? At the same time, Baroness doesn't just assign an arbitrary chromatic identity to each record. Just as red represented the players' feelings about the last album, so does blue this time around. "For our band and individually, blue sums it up," Baizley says. "There's something special to that for each of us." Listeners, on the other hand, are likely to see — or hear — all the colors of the rainbow in the ambitious, boundary-plowing music of Baroness.