You might forgive Georgia alt-metallers Baroness for bitterness and anger. After a near-fatal bus crash and several lineup changes since 2012’s critically acclaimed Yellow & Green, you’d expect band founder and mastermind John Dyer Baizley to have a chip (or three) on his shoulder. Baizley avoids the conceptual low road though, and gloriously subverting that expectation is what makes Purple such a revelation both lyrically and musically. I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing such a triumphant and clear headed meditation on loss and redemption.
Which isn’t to say that this enterprise is completely free of aggression, Baizley lays down the chunky riff domination early on and the crunch doesn’t let up for long throughout the record’s lean 42 minute run time. The bass heavy chug brings to mind a more streamlined and focused take on the prog leaning style of Mastodon or Red Fang, while the cleaner sections embody the more placid passages from Metallica’s do-no-wrong mid-80’s boom period. It may seem counterintuitive to refer to a genuine and wholly respectable metal record as “pretty” and yet, here we are.
Lyrically Baizley’s vague but cutting sermons are delivered with a scrappy urgency that blooms into huge, soaring arena rock choruses, riff dynamics and interplay between instruments recalling classic rock heroes Led Zepplin or Rush. The catchiness never veers into cloying though, maintaining the air of hopeful melancholy that permeates the entire project. The full presentation bristles with the refreshing and infectious tone of a man and a band reinvigorated after devastating personal and professional crises.
2015 was a great year for metal and if I’d glommed onto Purple earlier you’d better believe it’d be somewhere high on my top ten list. Baroness shows that heavy music doesn’t have to be just about wallowing in ones demons both from within and without, but besting and moving beyond them as well. Hail the conquering hero.