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I've been a fan of Baroness for quite a while. Ever since I first heard Blue around 5 years ago, I've eagerly gone through their catalogue and greatly enjoyed their unique brand of metal. It's also interesting to see how the band progressed in their style creatively, slowly stripping the metal and post-hardcore influences from their music for a more post-rock and metalcore approach.
First is the appropriately titled name for the band's first proper release. As with all albums, it features artwork done by frontman John Baizley. It's pretty unique looking and has a harsh, coarse look to it with a sandpaper-esque background and black-and-white faces in the front. It's almost eerie in a strange way. This is a contrast between his later work which featured more colorful, softer, less abstract artwork. But I digress
The sound Baroness plays is best described as a merge of metalcore and sludge metal with tons of influences from post-hardcore, punk, post-rock, and progressive rock. Instead of straightforward power chord jams like in sludge and in punk, it breaks up the song with abrasive minor chords, alternative & progressive influenced riffs, memorable leads, and atmosphere build up sections a la post-rock. The guitar tone is distinctly modern, loud, heavy, and distorted but ends up being surprisingly sharp, bright, and warm when it needs to. Compared to newer Baroness records, this album in particular leans more to the metal and post-hardcore/punk side of their influences and as such sounds much heavier, colder, and bassy; however, the sound is still distinctly Baroness with the tone still feeling bright and organic compared to most modern metal. Vocally, John Baizley has a somewhat recognizable half-shouted growl. The backing vocals that are very distinct particularly on Blue and Yellow & Green are used sparingly, the most notable case being on the second track Coeur, and aren't given much presence. This makes the cold feeling feel even colder; the backing vocals seemed to amplify Baizley's shouts in later records, giving a very war-cry like feel. In general, this is one of their most straightforward records, there being only a couple of slow, tense buildups and these few being less atmospheric and shorter.
What I personally like most about the EP is the straightforwardness. While I enjoy the tense atmospheric parts in Red, (it being one of the reasons why I love it so much) the more brutal and honest songwriting here feels like a bit of a relief. The album starts with a really heavy, loud chord not too long after the short atmospheric intro and builds right into a fast, heavy riff, something that would have felt out of place on Red and likely even Blue. The album is consistently heavy throughout, giving some time for atmosphere build ups and more melodic riffs. Coeur is probably the best example of how this album feels compared to another record of there's; heavy, honest, and to the point. It accomplishes all this while still being distinctly Baroness and not another Mastodon copycat or another generic modern metal band. The album is also well produced and pleasing to the ears and with a length of about 17 minutes, it's not a very short lived experience either. The EP isn't perfect however. It isn't as focused as their later efforts and Baizley's vocals aren't as varied or interesting either, but these are small nitpicks in an overall great release.
If you're a fan of modern metal, progressive metal, sludge with some tolerance for the newer bands, other bands in the modern sludge scene like Isis or Mastodon, or enjoyed Baroness's later works, you may find yourself digging this record a lot like I did. Most of the stuff I've said here applies to their Second EP as well! The major differences between First and Second are that Second feels more varied and atmospheric although not by much.
So I wrote a Review for the Blue Record soon after buying it and I mentioned that I was first introduced to this band through the First EP and I stated how much I enjoyed it. Here is why.
The first EP by Baroness is a gargantuan mountain of riffs that are held together by some of the most impressive and dynamic, while still young and primitive songwriting that I've heard in years. It might be the fact that this EP's sound quality is a bit raw and amateur sounding that ends up helping it's cause in the end. While it retains the rawness of a band that doesn't sound like they've been together forever, the songwriting is head and shoulders the main asset here. The structure really isn't the most complex in it's actual form, but there are so many parts that are abandoned and then revisited that it holds the listeners attention. Riffs are furiously crashing into eachother throughout the entire listen, and the pacing is perfect for this type of music. It's a fun listen, and it's a rewarding listen, and it's a genuine listen.
A lot of people claim that early Baroness borrows too much the bigger names in sludge, but although I don't hear it, even if it is true that some of the pieces are hand me downs, no one puts the puzzle together better than this band does.
Baroness might mean something different to most connoisseurs of all things sludge, but to me they pretty well embody everything that Mastodon could be if they were more focused and competent as songwriters. The same formula of ugly, morosely shouted hardcore punk is merged with a somewhat technical, free flowing blend of progressive post-rock, but with a higher attention to detail and organic development rather than an overload of technical showboating and sloppy riffs. This rather aptly titled little EP showcases this approach in its most primitive form, and ironically it comes across less like a green attempt at serious music and more like a seasoned one.
The structure at play here is a relatively simple one, even though there is a fair amount of technical doodles thrown in here and there. The two longer songs in “Tower Falls” and “Rise” take a good amount of time to emphasize the band’s noise/ambient influences, mostly hanging on an exaggerated dichotomy of mud and high-pitched droning, not all that out of character for Isis’s handiwork. When the vocals come in and out the format reverts to a fairly traditional sludgy punk character, picking up in speed and laying on the angst-ridden barks in typical fashion. All in all, the amount of orthodox sludge riffing and vocal work probably accounts for about 35% of the content of these two songs, which is underscored by the deliberate limitation of the extended instrumental sections on the shorter song “Coeur”, which is all but a prototypical up tempo sludge song with a mild hint of post-rock overtones.
Some point to this as being a sound that lends itself to an organic naturalism when experienced, but I tend to think of this more as being a boat ride through a swamp than a pleasant day in a field. It has sort of a mild character that would put the season of this outing to the local marshland somewhere in mid-Autumn, being just cool enough for the insect activity to die down a bit but still be present. It might be a little bit too longwinded, easy going and fancy for the average Crowbar fan, but for someone who wants that dense character of sound without drifting off into tech. mania, it’s a good monetary risk.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 16, 2011.
Sort of a mixture of naturalistic rock and sludgy post-metal here, and the combination does seem to work. You could say it's Isis meets Porcupine Tree, though a bit more straightforward than either of those. There's only three tracks and they're all good, but I like the slow buildup of 'Rise' the best, with its Pelicanesque noodling in the beginning, not in a rush to get anywhere in particular though clearly having some direction.
It conjures images of bright skies and rolling, verdant, treeless hills without being overly happy. It's just a very open variety of music; rock based drumming generally devoid of a second bass drum organically clatters under a handful of alternated power chords with the occasional splitting lead section. Vocals are a hoarse shout, like one would expect. Overall it's rather conventional as far as its parents genres go, but it combines the two in something of a novel way. The rock helps cut the natural pretense of the post-metal and the post-metal prevents the rock from being too simplistic and trite. In general I like the band when they're moving in a Pelicany direction the most and just letting it flow. Occasionally it speeds up, creating a small climax here or there, but the overall feel is pretty unaggressive and drifting. It all feels very organic.
I imagine this is a really good release to listen to coming from inside your car while laying on the hood, staring at the clouds. It's pretty relaxing and nice if not especially deep. I recommend it.
When the first time I listened to this EP I was blown away. Baroness does not play a specific type of metal such as death or thrash, but instead seems to just be metal. I can’t really find a label for them on this EP, although I guess Sludge is the most appropriate for the purpose of this review. While only 17 minutes long, this CD is one of the most enjoyable I have in my collection and I will sometimes find myself listening to it 2 or 3 times in a row. Just because these guys don’t have a full length CD out does not mean that they should be taken lightly. Baroness is for real.
The first song, Tower Falls, is probably the best song that Baroness has ever written. The song starts off with a neat little intro which is followed by some cheesy nu-metal riffs but at about the 50 second mark things definitely start to pick up. While 7 minutes in length, this song never gets old or repetitive. The song has so much going on in it that you really have to hear it to understand just how good it is.
Coeur, the second song on this EP, is definitely a letdown after Tower Falls but is still a decent song. It’s loud and full of energy like all the songs that Baroness has but other than that it is just average. It’s a short song though (only a little over 3 minutes) and things definitely pick up with Rise.
Rise is the final song and is definitely one of Baroness’ better songs. The song starts off with some beautiful guitar work for the first 2 minutes or so before the vocals kick in. The rest of the song is your average Baroness but those first 2 minutes make this song one of the best that Baroness has.
This score would probably be higher if Coeur had a little more going on in it but this is still a solid effort by Baroness. Really, if you like metal than you will probably like this CD because it offers something to everyone. Even if Coeur isn’t that great of a song, I would gladly pay the 8 dollars to get this EP just for Tower Falls so please don’t pass this up, you’ll just regret it later if you do.