Respect. A word often thrown around, especially by Ali G. This summer’s action flick “G.I. Joe” didn’t respect the sanctity of the classic G.I. Joe comic, making Ripcord a wise-cracking black guy and of course, the inexcusable creation of a love story between Baroness and Duke. Fortunately, on “The Blue Album”, the Savanna, Georgia metal outfit Baroness has shown complete respect for the history of not only metal, but also giving nods to post-punk, prog, hardcore, and even math rock. (On a side note, wouldn’t Destro be a much better name for a metal band? Just saying…)
For starters, this flawlessly organized album is book-ended by “Bullhead’s Psalm” and “Bullhead’s Lament”, both mysterious, spacey instrumentals that sound similar to Metalica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. In the opener, this homage to metal Gods from times of yore soon builds into a double guitar lead lick that pierces through the classic sound, proclaiming that Baroness has arrived: you better recognize. This intricate guitar playing fills the album from start to finish, sounding like Dream Theater, minus the self-indulgence. The goal of this band is not to impress; they want to catch you off guard, kicking you in the balls just when you think they are taking a rest.
When “Bullhead’s Psalm” comes to an eerie end, a ripping guitar riff blasts through the speakers, and John Baizley’s grizzled voice screams out, sounding like Ian MacKaye with a cold, circa Fugazi days (on “A Horse Called Golgotha” you my have flashbacks to the early 90s, listening to “In On the Kill Taker”). Despite its hardcore leanings, it still stays rooted in the type of classic metal that would make Tony Iommi blush. Song after song will have your head bobbing uncontrollably. With music this damn good, who gives a shit about lyrics?
The grippingly thrash continues for most of the album, but the band is somehow able to steady the raging storm of metal chaos, finding calmer waters in borderline ballads like “Steel that Sleeps in the Eye” and “Black Powder Orchard”. On the latter, the band’s southern roots can be heard, with it sounding like something you might hear on an Allman Brother’s album. “O’er Hell and Hide” starts with an enchanting serenade that will lead you into a sleepy listlessness due to its calming acoustic guitar artistry. 40 seconds into the song, when you’re on the verge of sweet dreams, the nightmare arrives with the band breaking into a grinding post-punk sludge tour. Amidst the chaos, a muffled voice can be heard talking in monotone, sounding almost like a metal Slint. Yes. I said it. A metal version of Slint. I think I just squirted a little pre-cum.
I may be making this album sound like a compilation of covers, but that assessment would be completely off-base. Despite the album’s wide spectrum of influences, there is never a doubt of who you are listening to: Baroness mother fucker. This is one of the most focused albums I’ve heard all year, which is pretty impressive considering the wide array of influences the band draws upon. The only thing that might be better than Baroness’s “Blue Album” may be a stroll through the record collection that inspired this all-encompassing metal sound.