Album Review: Baroness – Stone

"Stone" by Baroness

Baroness have grown to become one of the most critically respected metal bands working today. With 2007’s Red Album, the band fit right in with the vibrant  Southeastern alternative metal scene of the 2000s.

What made Baroness stand out was their use of psychedelic indie rock dynamics coupled with heavy rock musicianship. That vision fully gelled on 2009’s Blue Record, which saw the band incorporating more acoustic instrumentation while embracing melody and heaviness equally. Since then, the band has relentlessly tinkered with their sound. They approached mainstream success with 2012’s Yellow & Green and 2015’s Purple and embraced experimentation with 2019’s Gold & Grey. Throughout, critics and fans alike have heralded their album releases with the same anticipation as some of the most prestigious rock bands of their era.

Since their inception, singer and guitarist John Baizley has served as the band’s creative leader and sole original member. Baroness have not had a single complete lineup last for more than one album. This is interesting for a band that is so focused on the musical interplay of its members. That all changes, or rather remains the same, for the first time, on 2023’s Stone.

Stone is the first Baroness record that eschews the color theme of their previous records, and it’s title is symbolic in more than a few ways. Casting in stone the group from Gold & Grey (Gina Gleason on lead guitar, Nick Jost on bass and keyboards, and Sebastian Thomson on drums) and working with songs written during the pandemic, Baroness achieve balance with Stone.

They crystalize their sound, which encompasses galloping and crisp sludge metal riffs that fray at the end like a poison flower in bloom, offset by ruminative but upbeat psychedelic passages and the bellowing, soaring vocals of Baizley. It’s the blueprint that they perfected on Blue Record, but here, it is enriched by the lessons of Gold & Grey, particularly in the contributions from the other members.

The comparison to Blue might indicate that this record is something of a retread, but this is not the case. If anything, it’s a consolidation of strengths that firmly incorporates the band’s recent fascinations in a way that is truly harmonious with their core sound.

Opening track “Ember” is a gentle acoustic introduction that finds the band harmonizing in ways that are elegantly simple. They sing, “I lost my senses/I lost my way” and yearn for a simple life in a way that is moving. This segues into the single “Last Word,” which drops the bottom out and churns out thundering riffs and features a hair raising lead from Gleason. The song grooves in a way the band hasn’t quite done since “The Sweetest Curse” off of Blue, but this time with a chorus as anthemic as “Shock Me” off of Purple.

Sebastian Thomson positively shines on this record. His impeccable sense of rhythm coupled with his ability to rip tasteful fills have found their way into the Baroness lexicon just as effectively as they have in his original gig, Trans Am. His dexterous yet stable playing provide stable ground for tracks like “Beneath the Rose” and “Shine.” He is matched by Nick Jost’s bright bass lines and dense sonic soundscapes as they explore post-hardcore time signatures and delicate textures with equal aptitude. Gleason also comes into her own on this record. Her presence, both instrumentally and vocally, provide the band with a sense of melody and taste that didn’t seem quite as organic as before. Her technical acumen also adds immensely to Baizley’s already complicated and knotty riffs. 

This all makes room for Baizley to stretch out a bit vocally and lyrically. He particularly does on “Rose” and the trippy, nightmarish “Choir.” Here, he employs a low register speaking voice to communicate haunting imagery over the band’s steady pulse. The last track “Bloom” gives full flower to the seed of “Ember” both melodically and lyrically. It is the first acoustic “ballad” (more a folk song, really) the band have written that has no threat of rocking. It’s just as effective as their songs that burn and destroy. Baizley’s yearning for a sense of calm in the midst of utter chaos is a deeply relatable sentiment. It is communicated with poetic warmth that has never sounded more ethereal coming from him.

Stone, much like Blue Record, reflects a version of Baroness operating at their full potential. Though it is technically the same band, Stone demonstrates Baroness’s ability as a full band to be volcanic, pastoral, mysterious and triumphant in equally convincing ways. That sense of earthiness comes with experience and patience and it feels earned here. This might well become the definitive version of Baroness. With Stone, the band has made a gem of a record that also may stand as their crowning achievement. 

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