With Mastodon's recent rise to popularity, it's no surprise that progressive metal has been a growing scene as of late. Even more surprising, however, is how the burgeoning genre has been labeled as hipster metal; apparently indie kid cliques aren't the only ones generating music snobs. Baroness sounds like nothing generated from a scene, though - they lack the contrivances and pretensions, and are simply too adept at what they do. Their latest, Blue Record, proves to be standing evidence of this.
Blue Record, like the rest of Baroness' catalogue, prominently displays the mutating of southern rock into a trudging groove that is characteristic of sludge metal, but the style is all their own. While the riffing is outstanding, no song is ever especially heavy, thereby making the album's sound slightly more accessible without losing any of its bite. Another main pull of Blue Record is just how dynamic it is; scattered throughout are short interludes which serve as great setups before harder hitting tracks. Some, the introductory Bullhead's Psalm and Ogeechee Hymnal in particular, are slightly reminiscent of Metallica's notorious epic near-instrumental dirge To Live Is to Die, while the lovely Blackpowder Orchard harks back to early Down.
The musicianship is fantastic as well, namely John Baizley's powerful and melodic roar (which proves that clean vocals can thunder just as much as a death metal styled growl) and new guitarist Pete Adams' amazing solos. Baizley is commanding, but even more than that alluring enough to hook you in to his great vocal patterns, especially on Jake Leg. What's even more impressive than the tight playing and variety is how smoothly the album progresses. The way songs lead into each other is impeccable, especially the changeover between Steel That Sleeps the Eye and Swollen and Halo. The latter's melody starts out as a psychedelic, almost gypsy-esque sound before the melody is gradually warped to such a degree that it fits in with that of its companion track. From there, Swollen and Halo begins with a twang that hints at Steel before comfortably settling into its own thrashing groove.
The subsequent O'er Hell and Hide boasts nearly as much progression in just over four minutes. The spare acoustic intro quickly gives way to a bruising metallic gallop, which trades off seamlessly with a crushing stomp, linked by the low spoken vocals and an almost danceable beat. The Gnashing and Bullhead's Lament prove to be an outstanding closing pair as well. Gnashing starts out sounding almost like Bad Company on crack, eventually picking up the rhythm and crashing into Lament, which serves as a great bookend opposite Psalm.
Progressive metal efforts with so many avenues should not sound this brisk; more often than not they succumb to their own large ambitions and weigh themselves down with overly long compositions bloated with too many ideas. On Blue Record, Baroness show just how good they are at tightly packing everything together in a cohesive bundle. The Georgia-based quartet have produced an intricate yet highly listenable metal near-masterpiece, and fans of Mastodon in particular who are unfamiliar should definitely give this a spin.