Friday, August 24, 2012

Can Metal Be Fun? A Look at Baroness' Yellow & Green Album and What ItMeans for Metal to Come

Baroness - Yellow & Green 

In 2011, metal giants Mastodon released their fifth full length album, The Hunter. Though the album garnered some pretty positive reviews, fans of the band were polarized. The Hunter marked a new direction that the band was taking; it may or may not be permanent, but for the time being, Mastodon started to do something many fans didn't appreciate: they started having fun.

Why start this review with a Mastodon album from last year you ask? The reason behind it lies in the recent wave of "pop-centeric" metal that has been released. First, there was Mastdon in 2011. In 2012, Florida sludge-metal group Torche released their new LP, Harmonicraft. And now, summer has brought the long anticipated double album from the Georgia metal band, Baroness. Admittedly, there is a certain "pop" to these records, but each band still holds true to the metal genre they are reshaping for this new generation.

All except for Baroness.

Although Yellow still follows the band's vision of a new sound, it also feels familiar, which will more than likely calm some fears fans may have over this album. Yellow opens up similarly to Green, but as soon as the theme ends, "Take My Bones Away" instantly comes through with a sludge riff that essentially kicks off the mood for the rest of the album. Here, Baroness is showing off a more polished band; the time for harmonized screams and nonstop heaviness seems to be behind them.

The largest amount of change fans will notice though comes from Green, the latter half of the double album. Green starts off incredibly slow with its theme; minimal drums and reverb heavy chords soon give way to the anthem-like break that I can only describe as having a post-rock, hair-metal feel. The next 40 minutes are essentially a test when you first listen to Green. The slight heaviness from Yellow      
is replaced with a more ambient, post-rock feel. One thing that makes this particular album so enjoyable is that it doesn't feel boring. Baroness lines Green with airy tracks that are meant to calm the listener, taking them through a new mellowed out version of the band. "Board Up the House" offers a taste of hard rock, but then glides through tracks like "Stretchmarker" and "If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry" showcasing how versatile Baroness can be.

Many fans are angry with the new direction though, more often than not, for the wrong reasons. While looking at their recent video for "Take My Bones Away", there was a YouTube comment a user left stating his displeasure for the band's new album and direction. Throughout his musings, he kept citing "They are having fun now, just like Mastodon has been, and it has ruined all the good parts of the band." This really got me thinking; since when are bands not allowed to have fun while they play their own music? Fans act as if these bands owe us something, which in reality, they don't. They provide us with hours of listening entertainment, and we thank them by tormenting their music and criticizing it to no ends. If you are familiar with The Simpsons (if not, try to be. I know my wonderful friend/blog frontman Kyle Murphy will reference it NUMEROUS times), entertainment tells us that they don't owe us. If anything, we owe them.

For anyone afraid of listening to this new double album, I'll leave you with this quote from an interview with PitchforkTV. The thing about changing - gaining and losing fans - it shouldn't be part of the thought process when you craft an album. The only thing that should ever matter are the songs - "Are we genuine; are we moving forward?"

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