As one of the biggest names to emerge from a certain Southern scene of swampy sludge-metal, Savannah foursome Baroness helped define a new wave of heavy music that was both at once regressive and progressive. On one hand, at the outset, bands like Baroness, Kylesa before them, and their other peers ignored everything else in the larger world of metal that was close to mainstream acceptance.
Instead, they willfully looked backwards to the Sabbath/St. Vitus/Sleep lineage of the music, opting for simpler power and feeling over overt technical flourishes. At the same time, the new class of stonery guys and girls had the entire history of guitar music since to work with, and Baroness, particularly, never shied away from incorporating flourishes of other subgenres. By the wane of the ’00s, this new style was downright trendy, with any number of bands with indistinguishable one- or two-word names throwing their fuzz pedals and drop tunings into the fray.
So if Baroness helped define this kind of sludge metal 2.0 (or 3.0), with the group’s latest studio album, the double-disc Yellow & Green, they’re also helping to do away with it. Anyone hoping for a quick hit of riffs and shrieks within the first few minutes is going to be sorely disappointed by this record — and probably didn’t pay attention to the last one. The band’s 2009 effort, The Blue Album, had already veered far away from the wannabes’ formula, opting for a sort of narrative epic that was, at times, downright euphoric. The standout from that album, “A Steed Called Golgotha,” could have served as the theme song to a viking pillager’s triumphant return home.
The band’s new double album, Yellow & Green, has all but done away with most of the hallmarks of latter-day sluge-metal (or whatever you want to call it). What we get instead is something more interesting and melodic, that requires a lot more time and patience to unpack. The first half, Yellow, doesn’t blast out of the gate, but rather slowly unrolls. The nine tracks on Yellow together form an overall mood of bittersweet nostalgia, drawn out at slow tempos with more thoughtful singing than bellowing. “Back Where I Belong” is perhaps the most mournful and even romantic of these, stretching out a collection of lyrical sketches over relatively subtle guitar.
On the Green side of things, there are no real easy ins, either. Instead, the sound here often wavers somewhere between straight-ahead rock and even some proggy touches. It may be unfair to call this a sign of the band “maturing,” but it may be a sign of where Baroness’ particular class of bands is headed. Though it’s arguable whether or not they should get lumped together, Mastodon turned into a kind of metally Pink Floyd a few albums ago, and other acts are seeming to rekindle a love of more straight ahead rock and roll. Yellow & Green is somewhere in the middle, but where it most definitely is not is back in the sludge swamp. If Baroness helped solidify a particular subgenre, well, then it can certainly help play it out, and Yellow & Green is a smooth transition forward.