Album Review: Baroness, ‘Purple’
The stakes don't get much higher than this. Even if it weren't for the bus accident that nearly killed them, Purple would have been the moment for Baroness to prove they deserved the adulation they received for their 2012 mainstream breakthrough Yellow & Green. But the accident didn't only raise the stakes, obviously; it was a brush with death that transcended relatively puny concerns like cranking out records and tours. And it literally changed the band — drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni both left after that accident (for unspecified reasons they said were related to the crash). Not only would the next Baroness album need to transcend the sprawling Yellow & Green (with half the band replaced to boot) it had the baggage of a real-life event that had just about snuffed out the band's existence. In other words, the stakes weren't just high for Purple; the deck was stacked against it.
Instead of collapsing under the pressure, Baroness have delivered an album that refocuses the band on their strengths and flies triumphantly in the face of their setbacks. Yellow & Green was brooding, conflicted, complex and all over the map stylistically, incorporating prog movements that looked back to Rush and folk interludes that nodded to Bon Iver and Brian Eno. Purple is half the length and hones in on the band's true strengths: titanic hooks often sung by the whole band in the studio (led by frontman John Baizley) and wiry, thrilling instrumental sections. Like possibly only Metallica before them, Baroness became the best metal band in the world and immediately set their sights on becoming the best band. With their renewed purpose culled from the sheer power of metal (guitar harmonies, bass acrobatics, a barrage of drums, and the emotive power of sheer heaviness) they move themselves into that echelon.
On Purple, Baroness confront their brush with death head-on in a way that's almost celebratory. "Shock Me" (with a hook that could hold up to Katy Perry or Beyonce) invites struggle and pain as a tonic against passivity while "If I Have to Wake Up," about the inevitable need to rely on other people just to survive, features a hook with the thrust and heft of a jumbo jet that soars over a jagged, almost groovy beat. That song also features a pained, powerful vocal from Baizley and a resonating bell that counters the vocal melody – it's one of the few hints (aside from the monumental sound of the drums) of the presence of longtime Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. "Chlorine and Wine" is the album's centerpiece, with its communal chorus like the cry of a victorious army, about the helplessness of the hospital bed and the triumphant feeling of overcoming death. Baizley sings: "Don’t lay me down / Under the rocks where I found / My place in the ground / a home for the fathers and sons." Purple is primarily an album about resurrection, in both word and deed. And like chlorine and wine, like the "milk and gasoline" Baizley sings about on "If I Have to Wake Up," the experience is as caustic as it is cleansing.