Dive into oblivion with Baroness on their new record ‘STONE’  - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

When it comes to metal, I mainly stick to the classics: Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Slayer — those are my go-to’s when I crave the thrash and hair of the 80’s. And while I occasionally dip my toes into the waters of Sleep’s discursive stoner metal or Ministry’s industrial insanity, I admit that modern metal is not in my immediate wheelhouse of musical expertise. Yet here I am, imploring you to hold off on your 30th listen of Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We and instead treat your ears to the scorching riffs and mourning vocals of Baroness’ new album STONE. 

The Savannah/Philly-based prog metal band was only vaguely on my radar before this latest release (I had seen the baroque grandeur of their art for albums such as Yellow & Green and Gold & Grey) but I never stopped to truly check them out. STONE, however, caught my attention early. The album’s lead single “Last Word” was a blazing anthem that refused to be ignored. The track opens with a nasty drum fill and an even nastier fuzz-drenched riff courtesy of rhythm guitar chug specialist and lead singer John Baizley. Unlike most metal bands however,  Baizley’s lyrics and vocal melodies don’t take a backseat to the distorted guitar wizardry. Instead, Baroness crafts catchy hooks and focuses on good song structure, walking the line between alt-rock accessibility and metal music tropes without so much as a falter.

STONE is an extension of this approach to songwriting, creating a lean, well-balanced tracklist that runs fluidly front to back. The record is bookended by two acoustic tracks, the introductory “Embers” and the conclusion “Bloom.” Not immediately being met with a blistering metal riff to open the LP was unexpected…and honestly amazing. The aura of death and rebirth is present throughout STONE, but by beginning and ending with the intimacy of an acoustic guitar those themes become elevated when the heaviness does arrive; instead of being overshadowed by a relentless onslaught of noise song after song after song.

BARONESS - Last Word [Official Music Video]

Expounding on the creative process of STONE in a recent press release, Baizley said “An important through line in Baroness is we don’t like to repeat ourselves. It’s all about the willingness to take risks. When I was younger, the whole point of music was to be different, not to do the same thing, and not to listen to parents or play by the rules. That’s kind of goofy, but in practice, it works. “I think we were able to strip everything away on this record,” adds lead guitarist Gina Gleason. “We were unified in that. So, we just jumped in and did our best. That felt really good. It was a really cool, empowering, creative experience.”

Other highlights from the album include the head-banging “Beneath the Rose” and the harmonious “Magnolia.” The former carries perhaps the heaviest riff on the album, rapidly building as Baizley repeats “Knocking. Knocking. Knocking” as if he were Jack Nicholson about to bury his axe through a bathroom door. Conversely, “Magnolia” opens with angelic guitar harmonics and distant bird sounds that flow into a slow, almost indie-folk groove that suddenly erupts into a driving metal jam with one of Baizley’s most resplendent and operatic vocal performances on the record.

STONE takes creative and genre-bending risks that pay off at every turn. The band wanders into folk, heavy alt-rock, lo-fi indie (listen to “The Dirge” for Baroness basically writing an Alex G song) and more without ever feeling lost. Each song compliments one another, making for a listening experience accessible enough for a new fan such as myself while complex enough for metalheads searching for that extra bit of ear candy.

Baroness kicks off their “Sweet Oblivion” tour this October, going scorched earth state to state with shows in Seattle, Chicago, New York City, and Philly’s Union Transfer on December 1st. ​​Listen to STONE and watch some of Baroness’ 2019 Key Studio Session with XPN’s John Vettese below.

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