We have a lot to say about the most recent album from Baroness, “STONE”. The Georgia natives have made some serious sonic changes, and quite possibly unlocked their full artistic potential…for the sixth time.
Baroness “STONE” Review
Baroness: Fond memories & A New Beginning
John Baizley founded Baroness in Savannah, Georgia, in 2003. Local/regional punk-hardcore scenes harbored the group as they went from strength to strength. They signed to indie Relapse Records (Mastodon, Cave In) in early 2007, where they released three decorated records—Red Album (2007), Blue Record (2009), and Yellow & Green (2012)—before forming their own label Abraxan Hymns.
If you lived in Savannah, Ga circa 2002/2003 then you probably remember just how much our music scene was thriving. Our “Hostess” city had several venues, but The Velvet Elvis was the prime spot for all of us punk and metal fans. I spent many weekend nights at the Elvis, and it eventually became “The Jinx” when a new owner took over the building.
The Jinx closed during the pandemic, which was a serious blow to everyone. This is a venue that I have very fond memories of playing over the years. But I will never forget my first night seeing Baroness and Kylesa unleash some of the heaviest music I had ever heard. We had a scene, but we had no idea at the time just how special it would become.
I imagine that it was a lot like Seattle in the late 80s, on a smaller scale. We knew that something was brewing, but it was impossible to know where our bands would end up. The early 2000s were amazing in Savannah, and we experienced ZAO, Every Time I Die, Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk, Jucifer, Weedeater, Skeleton Witch, Norma Jean, The Unpersons, GAM and many other bands that blended rock, hardcore, and doom metal… with a tinge of southern swagger.
Those shows, along with the popular AURA Fest became a staple of our culture in Savannah. Those hot, sticky nights moshing and screaming along to songs were some of the best of my life. If I was not on the stage, I was in the crowd. My band broke up in 2008, but I continued to play with other bands, however it was never as exciting as those early days.
Our scene was built on a very strict DIY-based ethic, and it is an attitude that most of us still hold now, as adults. Savannah bands booked their own shows, made their own merch, and promoted with flyers. Standing on the street on 100 degree weather passing out show flyers was something we expected.
As I am writing this, I am looking at my office wall that is covered in flyers from that time. I have t-shirts made at the Black Tusk house, with some help from Jonathan Athon, a great man that we all surely miss. Our Savannah scene was entirely DIY, and Athon had a screen printer in his house (bathroom, actually), where we would watch bad action movies and drink whiskey as the shirt’s ink dried.
Again, everything was DIY. Baroness was one of the bands that other musicians watched closely, and we were always taking notes. If they could do it, so could we. We recorded, produced, and promoted all on our own… to anyone that would listen.
Those were the old days, and many bands from Savannah took off. Kylesa saw a ton of great response overseas, along with Black Tusk. In fact, most of us took off and different directions, playing music across the world. Sometimes I get homesick for Savannah, but that place no longer exists.
But it was Baroness that ended up being nominated for a Grammy Award for the song “Shock Me” along with critical acclaim for each album cycle the band generated, past and present. The Savannah music scene was excited for our hometown heroes, endlessly anticipating what the band would do next.
That is the magic of Baroness, as the band tries out new things with every album they constantly innovate despite troubles like lineup changes, and even severe bus accidents while touring overseas. John Dyer Baizley continues to lead the group, 20 years later, though all of this adversity.
“The next couple of records we made were about that bus accident in some form or other. “I couldn’t help but write songs from that experience.”John Baizley
My nostalgic version of Baroness barely resembles what the band sounds like these days, but I hardly mean that as negative criticism. The band has pushed the boundaries of what could be done with down-tuned, psychedelic sludge metal. In fact, the last album “Gold And Grey” focused on being more progressive-something the band always featured in some capacity.
While some of those original elements still remain, Baroness is a completely different animal now. The addition of Gina Gleason on guitar/vocals seems to have inspired Baizley and Co. to experiment even further. The days of the color-themed albums began with the infamous “Red Album” in the hot Summer of 2007 and has ended with 2017’s “Gold And Grey“.
Which brings us to today, and the new album STONE. So far, three singles have been released from STONE that give a little insight into the path the band has taken. All of the elements that make up Baroness are here on the new album, with some interesting departures and progressive elements.
Let’s dive into STONE and talk about the tracks that stood out to me, as well as the inspiration and making of the album. This was quite the sonic journey for me, and I have given the album a few days to really soak in, and marinate. But first, let’s talk about the ideas that eventually became STONE…
Baroness “Stone”: Credits & Conception
Written by Baroness
Produced by Baroness
Engineered by Baroness
Mixed by Joe Barresi at JHOC in Pasadena, CA
Additional mix engineering: Jun Murakawa
Mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering (Portland, ME)
John Baizley – vocals, guitar, piano, organ, glockenspiel
Gina Gleason – guitar, vocals, organ, glockenspiel, aux perc
Nick Jost – bass, strings, synthesizer, glockenspiel, aux perc
Sebastian Thomson – drums, synthesizer, glockenspiel
Conceptually, STONE eschews the color-based themes of its predecessors, but it’s just as personally weighty. Baizley’s initial ideas were negative and rayless. The right feel wasn’t right. Often as an artist, you need something to inspire your work. Great songs and lyrics never just appear out of nowhere.
To get out of his funk he took Baroness on the road again, playing in smaller, intimate venues on the Your Baroness Tour, which featured no opening acts and fan-curated setlists that reached nearly three hours in length and offered an extensive look at the band’s back-catalogue.
He built the lyrical foundation for STONE on that tour. Indeed, freedom gave way to ideas of permanence, both literal and figurative. Sure, Baizley came face-to-face with death, but he also realized that STONE means so much more, from struggle and support to perseverance and comfort.
The album was written in 2020, but don’t mistake it for a “pandemic” record. Writing at home, the group felt uninspired despite the ideas that each member brought to the table. Creativity fully flourished only when they escaped to an Airbnb in Barryville, a quaint hamlet on the New York/Pennsylvania border.
“An important through line in Baroness is we don’t like to repeat ourselves,” says founding member John Baizley. “It’s all about the willingness to take risks. When I was younger, the whole point of music was to be different, to find fresh risks and exciting ideas to explore, and to follow your own impulses rather than play by the rules. That’s kind of goofy, but in practice, it works.”
“Playing one idea for 13 hours a day, you lose yourself inside of the music,” Nick Jost shares. “You have to follow where that headspace takes you and trust your mates. Extreme isolation enhances this state of mind and allows you to explore things unhindered. That process of exploration is a big part of this album.”
One of the main aspirations behind STONE was to take Baroness back to a DIY approach. Over the years, Baizley had become accustomed to, and talented at, engineering, recording, and mixing. Instead of taking the band to an actual studio, they transformed the Airbnb in Barryville into an impromptu recording space with its big, vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, and brick/glass walls.
While Baroness wrote STONE, Baizley recorded and pre-mixed it. In a way, each song on STONE has its own sonic treatment. After the group finished tracking drums, guitars, and bass, they took everything back to Baizley’s unfinished basement – where parts of Gold & Grey were also recorded—in Pennsylvania to put down the vocals and add other bells and whistles.
STONE was then handed off to Grammy-nominated mix master Joe Barresi (Kyuss, Alice In Chains) for final mixing and polishing and Grammy-winning mastering guru Bob Ludwig (Led Zeppelin, Nirvana) at Gateway Mastering Studios.
Every Baroness album has a different production style, and STONE is no different in that department. This album is much more stripped down, however. The album was produced by the band themselves, and I think that is exactly what makes it so captivating to listen to. Each song has a “sound” and personality of its own, which is refreshing.
In the days of rock albums being so copy and paste when it comes to sounds, the drums in particular, this album is a rarity. This style can sound messy to some producers, but I like it. It adds a certain touch of humanity to STONE.
Honestly, I will take an album with varied production over an album where every song just bleeds into the next, with no defining sonic differences. It has become a common theme in metal music to use the same drum samples and plugins, to the point where it is hard to even tell certain bands apart. STONE is a breath of fresh air in that respect.
There is a lot of dynamics at play on STONE. We go from whisper-quiet ambience right into explosive heaviness often throughout the ten tracks. The final result is a cavalcade of sounds that are raw, organic, and extremely powerful. Some songs often shift moods on a dime, while others build slowly to release.
The album kicks off with “Embers” which is a great introduction. The acoustic track features Gina and John harmonizing over guitars, with a foreboding piano in the background. In fact, a lot of the album features Gina Gleason’s backup vocals, which is a fantastic addition.
The album then kicks off in proper Baroness style, with syncopated chugs on “Last Word”. This track sounds a lot like the songs we know Baroness for, with a killer solo before the bridge. The swirling guitars in the chorus are classic Baroness, and I can see why they released this as a single.
“Beneath The Rose” is the next track, which also gives off some nostalgic vibes. The harmonized guitars in the intro remind me of “Wanderlust”, but in between all of the guitar madness is some spoken word vocals and a beautiful, anthemic chorus.
The album goes right into “Choir” which also features some spoken word, in a surprisingly theatrical way. If there is a central concept of the album, I haven’t figured it out yet. But “Choir” sounds like something the Talking Heads might have done 40 years ago, or even Genesis during the Peter Gabriel days. It is off-kilter, driven, and very unique.
“The Dirge” is another interlude that is much like a continuation of the opening track (also, a Dirge is mentioned in the song before this track). It acts as the perfect segue into “Anodyne”, a track that feels a highlight of the album to me. The chugging guitars and swirling tempo is going to be a banger during live shows.
The last half of the album kicks off with the fuzzed-out “Shine”. Baroness have always had great melodies and hooks baked into the psychedelic heaviness. But here, John and Gina sound like a pair of wailing banshees lamenting, until the eventual slow fade out of the track.
“Magnolia” is a an 8 minute epic, that shifts between ambient noise and heavy guitars. Again, I cannot stress how much of an impact Gina has on the vocal arrangements. Her voice is often right there with John, and it sounds amazing.
The next two tracks really caught me off guard, in a good way. “Under the Wheel” starts off almost like a Deftones song, and slowly builds into distorted bass and heavy guitars, with John really screaming his vocals for the first time in quite a while. The guitars and ambient sounds build into a huge crescendo about half-way through the track, and this is the pinnacle of the album for me.
The album ends with “Bloom” and this is the longest acoustic song on the album. Strangely enough, if you loop the album, it goes right back to “Embers” at the beginning. If you let the album loop, you get about 10 seconds of silence, until it all connects again.
Usually, this would be where I would say something negative, but I have come up blank for this one. I promise you this isn’t bias, since I didn’t particularly love the last two Baroness albums. But STONE is a different experience for me, since the whole album is so cohesive. It flows from one track to the next, perfectly.
It has been 20 years now, and Baroness is still experimenting with song structures and sounds. Sure, the heavy riffs that we love are still there, along with the quirky guitar harmonies. But this time around, it is almost more straight-forward than the previous Baroness albums.
STONE is much more stripped down, even if there are a few cool production tricks here and there. This album sounds like a band playing together, and having a really great time. It may lack the polish of the previous efforts, but I think the trade-off is worth it.
Gone are the huge layers of guitars, synths, and other arrangements. There are minimal overdubs, and it sounds like four people actually playing together. This is something that has been woefully missing in music for a while in general, at least for me. STONE sounds real, and that is probably the best compliment I can give a band these days.
The cool guitar harmony sections are still there, and John’s lyrics are still as visceral as ever. If anything, this is almost a return to that nostalgic Baroness that I used to see on Friday nights, 20 years ago. It isn’t as heavy as it was then, but it just as inventive and captivating. Every song is a journey, with peaks and valleys. I heard something different with each listen, which means this album is supposed to be explored-it is a journey.
STONE is the first album without the color theme, and it seems like Baroness is taking this opportunity to go in a different direction without straying too far away from their core. This album has the DNA of every Baroness album, but something else is hiding between the shadows.
There is plenty here for new fans, as well as us older fans that have a little bit of grey in our beards now. I think we will be talking about this album for quite some time, and picking it apart. Definitely catch them live if you can, and give STONE a listen all the way through.
October 13 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Sound Stage
October 14 – Richmond, VA – Canal Club
October 15 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
October 17 – Tampa, FL – The Ritz Ybor
October 18 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
October 20 – Dallas, TX – The Echo Lounge & Music Hall
October 21 – Houston, TX – House of Blues
October 22 – Austin, TX – Empire Control Room & Garage
October 24 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater
October 25 – Mesa, AZ – Nile Theater
October 27 – Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory
October 28 – Los Angeles, CA – The Bellwether
October 29 – Berkeley, CA – UC Theater Taube Family Music Hall
October 31 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theatre
November 3 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
November 4 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theatre
November 6 – Edmonton, AB – Union Hall
November 7 – Calgary, AB – The Palace Theater
November 9 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Depot
November 11 – Denver, CO – Summit
November 12 – Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room Lounge
November 14 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
November 15 – Chicago, IL – The Vic Theatre
November 17 – Columbus, OH – The King of Club
November 18 – Detroit, MI – St. Andrews Hall
November 19 – Toronto, ON – The Danforth Music Hall
November 20 – Montreal, QC – Théâtre Beanfield
November 22 – Albany, NY – Empire Live
November 24 – Cleveland, OH – Agora Theater & Ballroom
November 25 – Pittsburgh, PA – Roxian Theatre
November 26 – Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
November 28 – Boston, MA – Royale
November 29 – New York, NY – Webster Hall
December 1 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer