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New BARONESS album Stone - my impressions

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I know a journalist who got an advance copy of Stone to review and because we are friends, he shared it with me. I’m about four full listens in and I wanted to share some impressions, specifically and generally.  


Embers: “Build me a home of ember and chain; give me a simple life…” The opening song is a short (about a minute) acoustical piece with John and Gina singing together. Lovely.  Almost a folksy, Americana vibe to this one.  Very surprised to hear them open with soft tune with vocals.  Segues directly into…


Last Word: Not going to say much about their first single, as it’s readily available and heard by anyone who wants to.  Embers into this one has a nice touch and flow, however.  If you haven’t heard Last Word, it’s a corker.  


Beneath The Rose: Likewise, it’s the follow up single and out there for consumption.  If you’re unfamiliar, there’s almost a pseudo punk quality to this one with very Butthole Surfers-meets-Henry Rollins spoken style vocal.  Lots of new ground mixed in with the trademark Baroness twin harmony guitars, harmony chorus, and even some guttural  vocals invoking an earlier period.  


Choir:  “She haunts my ruined night; that I might use my eyelids to shield against her light.” This one continues the spoken vocals after a nice chugging intro over a driving drum beat.  The spoke-als (see what I did there?) range from soft to, at times, barked and the lines become increasingly more modulated and sinister, until towards the end where John’s voice almost becomes devilish.  The music is steady and dynamic-less underneath, with breaks between the vocals having almost a Bullet The Blue Sky kind of guitar delay and decay.  There’s almost a Porcupine Tree-like drone happening as well in the gaps between speaking, which is sometimes elongated and unsettling.  The song is as theatrical as it is musical, and is definitely the most unique - and strangest - tune on the album.  


The Dirge: “Now my ship is sailing, now the race is run; I know my breath is failing, now my time is up.” This is another acoustic guitar-layered, dual vocal with John and Gina singing together in almost an Everly Brother fashion, which is cool.  The vocals begin fuzzy and distant, like an old scratchy record, become clean and centered in the second verse, and in the third verse their multiple voices are harmonized over John doing a deep baritone, single note drone.  It’s really gorgeous.  No chorus here, just three similar verses which have different sonic elements to them.  It’s almost hymn-like, a folksy Americana thing.  


Anodyne:  “Take me to the ocean, take me through the waves; hold me under water; where the surface meets the sky, there’s my Anodyne.”  Think…Kyuss.  And then keep thinking it.  This song kicks some serious ass. Stoner sludge at its best.  Really great guitars over a steady beat that as the verses kick in just elevate a notch to crush your head.  The vocals are slow and harmonic and occasionally this sick wah kicks in on the guitar to keep things interesting under the chugging riff.  There aren’t a lot of dynamics or change ups at play here, but this tune chugs so hard it doesn’t matter.  There is a relief bridge at the end to mix things up and massage the knot in your neck and it’s a great twin lead section. An album highlight. 


Shine: “Did I go too far, soaring higher…higher; did I touch the sun, will I shine forever?”  A really trippy, swirling guitar and synth begins the track before a lush acoustic picking enters the song and the two weave together blissfully, soothingly.  Together it’s a nice touch.  Goes on for a little bit before and drum roll takes the song to a heavy and uptempo level. There’s an awesome choral section in relief of the verses melody and rhythm which takes the song higher.  Soaring twin vocals mark the chorus section.  A bridge segues into a slow-but-clean electric section with a syncopated rhythm, which builds with some Maiden style guitars that take you back into the chorus section once again.  The song ends with Gina and John speaking over an ever-fading music section while their voices remain upfront, finally also fading before turning back into the trippy sonics which open the tune.  I like this one a lot. 


Magnolia: This song begins with an odd syncopated rhythm (there’s that expression again) over almost a stumbling guitar.  It literally sounds like the song is skipping, but it’s just the rhythmic change.  The song comes back into sync and segues into a very Blue Record like melody and aggressive, howled vocal.  A looping, frolicking twin lead section occurs between verses.  The next verse has a VERY Steel That Sleeps The Eye feeling dynamic.  I think the old schoolers will dig this one a lot.  Probably the most OG sounding of their new tunes.  It finally fades with clean harmonized droning vocals over a dirty strummed guitar.  


Under The Wheel: The song begins with a synth that has a very cello-like quality with a bass line underneath it.  Very moody and echoey.  Almost a little creepy and sinister.  The drums and a clean, soft John vocal pop in simultaneously.  It’s a nice slow, atmospheric chug in this one.  Gina comes in with a haunting harmony vocal in the second verse.  John’s vocals then belt in LOUD AND GROWLING, old school, before heading into an almost unsettling keyboard section that’s pretty theatrical, sounding almost like a combination EDM thing and horror movie soundtrack.  This gives way to a steady chug and back into growling vocals by John before Gina joins him again.  This is much more about an atmosphere and feel over a range of dynamics.  The playfulness comes in its weird and electric and cello-like bits.  Cool, slow burn on this one.


Bloom: “Build me a home of hammers and rain; leave me a simple life; home, where we go; to bury the blood and stone.”  This song completes what I’m calling the Everly Bothers-like trio of folksy Americana tunes.  The album is bookended by them and the break in the middle (The Dirge) is more of the same.  It’s almost like these songs are narrating the other ones, a chorus of sorts.  Setting up a scene, transitioning you between scenes, and offering an epilogue, if you will.  I will say, it is, by far, the most beautiful song I have heard John and Gina do together.  Without trying to scare anyone that this is some country song or some silly little thing (it isn’t), if you want to listen to what this song evokes, go queue up Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones covering “Put My Little Shoes Away.”  Don’t roll your eyes to this either, you sons o’ guns.  It’s still very much Baroness.  But there is almost a folksy air to it.  It’s lovely and a fitting ending to this real trip and journey of an album.  I have never heard John sing so well as right here. Absolutely their most gorgeous song.  


To me this album’s soft moments are John coming to terms with his demons and the aggressive moments are them trying to beat their way back in, like villains you can never quite completely vanquish.  The album ends hopefully and peacefully, with calm winning out over chaos.  At least that is how the album feels to me.  


“I found a heart that I couldn’t break; no matter how hard I tried; oh, the blossom is bare, brittle, and pale; thrown in a crimson tide…”


I’m pleased.

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I've sat with this album for over a month now. I still quite like it, but it's definitely not their best album. I think a few tracks are a bit too repetitive. A few songs still really stand out, I'm a big fan of Beneath The Rose, Choir, and Anodyne. I appreciate the spoken word bits and the some of the heaviness they brought back. Under the Wheel is awesome even though it's a bit of a throwback to Red/Blue. 

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