Baroness have always occupied a unique space in the Savannah, Ga. metal scene, falling somewhere between the technical prowess and commercial appeal of Mastodon, and the more experimental, psychedelic nature of Kylesa, until now. With Yellow & Green, their third full-length and first double album, the group have completely reinvented themselves, delivering their strongest material yet and in the process, stealing the crown from both those groups.
2009's Blue Record proved that Baroness had big ideas, and their 2012 cover of Descendents' "Bikeage" showed that they were willing to think outside the box and go places well outside the confines of their sludge metal beginnings, but those experiments only hinted at what was to come. There is such a vast array of styles and influences present on Yellow & Green that one wouldn't expect to hear from a band such as this, from the aggressively danceable post-punk of "Little Things" to the Radiohead circa-Kid A atmospherics of "Psalms Alive", and they pull off all of it with flying colors.
The fact that Yellow & Green is split into sections, and the huge cornucopia of styles on display call to mind Thrice's ambitious Alchemy Index project. The comparisons to that recently disbanded Irvine, Calif. group don't end there, however: The first two tracks released to public from Yellow & Green, "Take My Bones Away" and "March to the Sea" would fit right in on The Artist in the Ambulance and Vheissu, respectively. These are also the two most aggressive tracks on the LP. Baroness in 2012 cannot be accurately labeled as a metal band, as the Megadeth-influenced riffing in the chorus of Yellow's otherwise psychedelic "Cocainium" and the intro to "The Line Between" are the only traces of the band's abrasive early work to be found on Yellow & Green.
Of the two sections, Green is the more laid back, and focuses more on instrumental sections, such as the stunning, mostly acoustic "Stretchmarker" and post-rock leaning album closer "If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry" than Yellow, which prominently displays vocalist John Baizley's newfound clean singing skills.
As always, Baizley contributes gorgeous album art that cannot be fully appreciated in a one-inch jpeg on an iPod. It shows how much attention to detail the band put into every aspect of their work and emphasizes the importance of albums as a complete package. The best way to experience a Baroness album is on vinyl, poring over the album art and taking it all in.
If there's one aspect of Yellow & Green where fault can be found, it's that the lyrics aren't quite up to snuff with what the rest of the band is doing. Lines like "You lied about everything, you greasy little thing" from Yellow highlight "Little Things" don't do the jaw-dropping instrumental work justice. It's not exactly cringe-worthy, but it does make the album less perfect than it would be otherwise.
It's always great to see an established artist taking risks with their sound, and it's even better when those risks actually pay off. In that sense, this total reinvention of Baroness' sound can almost be seen as on par with radical left turns like Kid A, Achtung Baby or Metallica's Black album. The group has at once become both more experimental and more accessible. They've created an album that towers over anything their peers in the Savannah scene have done, and while they may lose some fans as a result, they'll surely stand to gain a lot more.