Baroness – Purple

3 out of 5

Label: Abraxan Hymns

Produced by: Dave Fridmann

This is my first Baroness album, so maybe my expectations are off.  But maybe my expectations were set by the way Purple kicks off – with a stream of furious but major-label-Mastodon-esque accessible metal tracks, featuring a nice focus on John Dyer’s bold vocals and a general m.o. of energy; the beginning of Purple is amazing.

And then, like, Baroness discovered some knobs and gadgets in the studio.  Fine, you turn in one lightweight track – track4 – in which energy is exchanged for more of a finger-snapping pace and hummable melody, but its still a pretty catchy track, so as long as you get back to business, we’re still in good shape.  Meaning not a good time to whip out a weird AOR instrumental.  Purple does perk back up in its latter half with two fairly epic tracks – Chlorine & Wine and Desperation Burns – but whether my ears discern a legit difference or the sequencing just biases things, suddenly everything gets an extra dose of studio trickery that massively undercuts the intensity.  It’s tough, because the group’s skills are awe-inspiring, across the board: interesting lyrics, delivered passionately with a respectable vocal range; and an insane barrage of busy guitars and drums that aren’t going for technical wowzers, necessarily, so much as delivering an appropriate sense of frenzy. This adds up to some great moments and breakdowns, but then it will butt up against some weird, inorganic bleeps and bloops and the momentum poops the bed.  Overall, the delivery is positive, but looping back through to those first three tracks – which have effects, but primarily lead the way with riffage and metal – there’s this feeling like Purple could have been so much more if they’d ditched the extras.

So what happened?

Well, again, first Baroness record, but here’s my guess: Frikkin’ producer Dave Fridmann.  Fridmann, who’s made a name for himself on glossy (Mercury Rev) and quirky (Flaming Lips) productions, and who I wouldn’t choose to pair with a metal act.  I’m definitely sold enough on this disc to confirm that theory by traveling backwards through Baroness’ catalogue.  Stay tuned for me bursting into Dave’s studio and shaking my fist, grumbling “Fridmannnn…!”