Before the release of Yellow & Green, Baroness frontman John Baizley stressed in interviews that the records were going to take some risks and expand the band’s sound, partly by being more direct and placing greater emphasis on songwriting. Fans of the metal band’s notoriously complex music weren’t quite sure how to take this assessment; their responses tended toward wariness and curiosity mixed with guarded optimism.
As it turns out, the double album Yellow & Green is pretty much just how Baizley described it: The burly metal fury of previous Baroness efforts has settled into something far more daring and diverse. Look no further than Yellow‘s “Twinkler” and “Cocainium.” The former’s primary sounds are throaty flute, stately acoustic guitar and stacked vocals — think Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” at a Renaissance Faire, or a lusher version of Blue Record‘s “Steel That Sleeps The Eye.” In contrast, the latter’s tar-bubble riffs and oil-slick keyboards rumble like Iron Butterfly, before the song explodes into a fuzzed-out The Sword/Metallica hybrid.
Although this simmering tension between aggression and restraint permeates both albums, Yellow is more focused and accessible. A nimble bass line gives “Little Things” an elastic quality, while the cattle-stampede riffage of “March to the Sea” is classic Baroness. Still, these tunes exhibit impressive concision; even the turbocharged stoner rockers “Sea Lungs” and “Take My Bones Away” contain discernible (and catchy!) hooks.
Green overall is far moodier, slower and quieter than Yellow. The instrumental “Stretchmarker” is heart-wrenching psych-folk, while the ominous “Collapse” is nothing more than a tangled arrangement of folky acoustic guitar, some surging sound effects and a patient kick-drum thump. Other interesting influences crop up, too: The melancholy “Mtns. (The Crown & Anchor)” conjures Thrice’s brooding post-hardcore musings, and the watery guitar textures of “Foolsong” and Green‘s closing instrumental track, “If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry” are reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky.
It’s obvious these stylistically sprawling albums represent the next step for Baroness: Like Metallica once did, or, more recently, Mastodon, they have begun to grow beyond their niche and have accordingly set their sights on expanding beyond a cult audience. If much of Yellow & Green sounds like metal for people who don’t necessarily identify as metal fans, then, it hardly means the band is hardly consciously dumbing down its music for the mainstream. On the contrary, these daring albums cement Baroness’s reputation as an uncompromising group of musicians who’s never been afraid to flout convention when pursuing ferocity.