Baroness are less than a decade into their remarkable career, but they command an almost peerless reverence in broader music circles. They arose from the same Georgia metal scene that birthed Mastodon and Harvey Milk, and released their first full-length, Red Album, in 2007. The original bandmembers grew up together in Lexington, VA, and reconvened after lead singer John Baizley finished design school in Rhode Island. They have always been an undeniably great metal band, but their songwriting doesn’t play to genre expectations; more often than not, their songs could just as easily become indie rock anthems with a different presentation. Red Album was followed by instant classic Blue Record in 2009, and then 2012’s sprawling double-LP epic Yellow & Green. As time went on, Baroness began to drift from their sludgy beginnings, adding synthesizers and any number of well-employed studio tricks to the mix.
Tragedy struck as they set off to Europe to promote Yellow & Green. Following a show in Bristol, the band’s bus veered off an embankment near Bath, plunging over 30 feet. All four bandmembers were injured in the wreck, and Baizley escaped with a broken arm and a broken leg. The aftermath of the wreck almost spelled the end of the band; recovery was a long and arduous process, and drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni took it as their cue to exit. But Baizley and Peter Adams decided to forge on, joined by bassist Nick Jost and Trans Am drummer Sebastian Thomas.
The band arrives in Cincinnati on the strength of their their fourth LP, Purple, their first since the accident, and arguably their strongest. The expected expert riffing and whiplash-inducing instrumental changes are paired with gorgeous, swampy interludes (“Fugue”) and multi-part suites (lead single and standout “Chlorine & Wine”). The songs don’t explicitly invoke the bus crash, but thematically, there are echoes of it everywhere. These are songs of pain, struggle, and, ultimately triumph. Everything comes to a head on the magnificent album closer “If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?)”: “Take a dive, fill your lungs with summer rain/Pace yourself, heavy the heart, steady the hand/One last taste of milk and gasoline.” Power chords blend with Springsteenian glockenspiel on the soaring chorus, and Baroness roars triumphantly in the face of their averted oblivion.
L.A.-based openers Youth Code straddle the industrial line between electronic and metal. Their 2014 A Place To Stand EP was included on Pitchfork’s list of the year’s best metal albums, and they’re currently touring in support of the just-released Commitment to Complications. Songs explode forward at breakneck speed, the programmed drums evoking early Big Black if they’d somehow had a chance to listen to The Knife. The overall effect is hypnotizing, bordering on both terrifying and danceable, and somehow landing in both camps.