Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
To mark the end of their colour-coded album series, sludge metallers Baroness have gone all out with their boldest, riskiest and most diverse album yet.
Words by Avery Jacobs.
The title of Baroness’ fifth studio album, Gold & Grey, is a touch ironic: where previous records were based around bold and bright primary colours that stick out like a sore thumb on shelves, gold and grey are two very brusque and dreary colours – a stark contrast to the album itself, which takes on a broader spate of sounds and styles than all of its predecessors combined. There are chillingly dark twinges of brutality that clash against buoyant and glittery wallops of elation; quaint blips of experimental vicissitude wrapped around the towering, five minute-plus epics that cornerstone the record.
“Very early on in the process, I decided that I really wanted to do something that was… Kaleidoscopic,” says frontman John Baizley. “It sounds kind of funny when I say it to you, but it’s a visual term that brings to mind a bunch of different images and has its own attitude. Because it’s not a direct term – it doesn’t literally tell you what to do – but it’s a concept that you can apply over and over again. What it meant for us was that some of the songs were going to be big, long, epic and adventurous, and some of them were going to be brief little stabs; some of them were going to be harsh, and some of them were going to be really mellow and chill.”
In addition to being their most colourful (sounding) album, Gold & Grey is also their longest – not counting Yellow & Green, as that one’s a double album – spanning a serpentine 17 tracks over a tight 60 minutes. Rest assured, however, there isn’t a single hum of filler on the LP; every crumbly breakdown, atmospheric interlude and wicked, winding solo has its place. As Baizley fills us in, the journey through which this album unfurls is the most crucial it’s been in Baroness’ history.
“The pieces of a puzzle always have to fit together in a convincing way,” he says, “And I don’t think there was a way to put this puzzle together with less pieces and have it be as convincing. For what it is, as the album that it is, it actually feels like the briefest way that we could’ve said everything we needed to say. We needed to get all the ideas out, y’know? It had to be the kind of record where we didn’t curb any ideas because of time constraints, or any of those external factors – we were very ambitious, in such a way that it was a weird kind of ambition, but one that we needed to make such a special record.”
We can’t imagine many Baroness fans would complain about the extended length of Gold & Grey – especially considering it lands a gruelling four years on from 2015’s Purple. It’s the longest stretch of quiet they’ve endured between releases, but such was wholly necessary for the way Gold & Grey came together. It’s a snapshot in time for Baroness, wherein the exact emotions they were feeling in the studio were translated into their performances – emotions, obviously, they couldn’t dare feign.
“If we went back to square one with the exact same ideas, but started on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, we would’ve ended up with a totally different record,” Baizley asserts. “Every idea came from a very particular place and feeling within us, and every idea followed the one before it, and we never slowed down enough to be too critical about them. Because it felt good, y’know? And if it feels good, you need to take advantage of that – you just keep pushing, pushing, pushing. So it was never going to be a simple record. We had to balance a lot of complicated musical ideas, and we had to balance them in a way that was fun to listen to and fun to play.”
In whipping up their most ambitious tonal palate to date, Gold & Grey became a distinctively collaborative record for Baroness. The four – along with producer Dave Fridmann – shared a chemistry that allowed them to go all in with their respective creative tendencies, the push and pull of varying tastes allowing them to pull back whenever things got too wacky.
“If the four of us, as songwriters, ever feel similarly about an idea at any given point in time,” Baizley explains, “That means we’re doing some right. And with this record, that allowed us to be thoroughly adventurous without running the risk of destroying the foundation of our identity. We have two rules when we’re writing a song: it has to feel like a Baroness song – it has to have the grit, the emotion and the passion that we’ve always required in our songs – but in order to do that, we need to toss the stone into the river, so to speak. We need to explore the little things that we’ve never done before, so that we can write the music that we want to listen to – the music that nobody’s written yet. We’re writing the music that we wish somebody else had written, but we weren’t hearing.”
Following the 2017 departure of Peter Adams, Gold & Grey marks the first Baroness album to feature new lead guitarist Gina Gleason. Anyone who’s seen the band live can vouch that she’s an absolute machine with axe in hand, jutting viciously against Baizley’s own shredding with masterful dexterity. And as it turns out, Gleason didn’t even need to audition before being recruited – she and Baizley had a jam session together just for kicks, which led to the frontman realising she was perfect for the role.
“I consider myself very lucky to have played with the guitar players that I’ve played with in the past,” he says, “Because they were all friends of mine growing up. So y’know, it was a fairly daunting idea to me that our fourth guitarist was going to have to be – out of necessity – somebody that I didn’t know yet. But I noticed, when Gina and I were playing together, that before she even knew she was trying out for Baroness, in an unspoken way, she had so many of the eccentricities that I also have as a player.
“On top of that, her technical competency is way, way more advanced than mine – I’m really excited about that, because not only is she somebody who can play better than me, but she understands what I’m doing on the level and in the way that I understand it. We’re in tune with each other.”