Baroness – Red Album – 4.5/5
Progressive Sludge is hardly a genre that is flooding with bands, so forgive the mastodon comparisons. Firstly, it should be said I wasn’t a fan of mastodon, I found it interesting but ultimately flawed. The combination of genre’s seemed to heavily contradict one another. On one hand, you have progressive metal; largely filled with time signatures, quick soloing, technical drumming and power metal vocals. Then we have sludge; a slow, aggressive, deep and distorted pounding sound. The very notion of a quick yet slow, heavily distorted yet clean and clear, simple yet filled with complex drums and time signatures, aggressive and abrasive clean vocals, it all seems like opposite ends of a musical genre. So imagine my surprise when somehow they manage to not only succeed in creating a sound accomplishing these criteria, but creating an impressive album as a result.
Part of Mastodon’s downfall, particularly in their last offering, was their tendency to try and sound overly complicated. This isn’t progressive in the technical wankery sense, along the veins of symphony X or Dream Theatre. Instead they take it back to the era of rush or King Crimson, where progressive meant the album continually, slowly, and gradually changes from one thing to another. The guitars are still fairly distorted, but by utilising simplistic riffs, maintain that sludge feel, more akin to the likes of Fu Manchu than perhaps the original Eyehategod doom-filled festival. The vocals succeed in sounding aggressive, utilising Heavy/power vocals with more than a touch of rasp, the drumming has a number of fills whilst maintaining the basic groundwork which to build upon. Before hearing this, id have told you the idea of progressive sludge couldn’t work. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how it does, but somehow they’ve come out with a wholly original sound as addictive as it is fascinating.
As the album progresses, I felt it became continually worse. The opening track had a great soft intro before turning into a rampant change in sludge riffs and sounds, even flowing into the next couple of tracks seamlessly it is a piece that despite its length, is absolutely flawless. A trippy intro, an interesting drum beat, beautiful twin guitar harmonies, hard hitting riffs, catchy and easily heard vocals, there is nothing I don’t like, and if this continued for the albums length id be bouncing around claiming to have found the album of the year.
Now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t ever really hit a bad point, the nice acoustic “cockroach en fleur,” The simplistic yet well composed “Wanderlust,” both do nothing to bring down the incredibly high score, but when you hit track seven, it seems to reach a low point. The musicianship is still there, the tones and sound they’ve created still present, but something seems lacking. Consisting of far shorter, instrumentally heavy tracks, I felt more could have been done. Especially after hearing the astounding start the album had. Then there is the bonus track, with 11 minutes with nothing happening before a “bonus track” kicks in, which has a blues feel but seems rather unenthused. I never understood the desire for a band to do this, but then having something rather pointless at the end of it seems like a waste.
If you asked me what progressive sludge would sound like, id have told you to not waste your time. This band has proven me wrong. An album that deserves far more mention than I’ve ever seen it given, this is a shining example of innovation in the making.
Highlights: Rays on Pinion, The birthing, Wanderlust
By T. Bawden