And here we are at our next stop in the Museum of Heavy Music: the hall of crossovers. This is where we celebrate those albums that had the perfect mix of melody and murkiness, the ones that managed to bravely touch down in the hazardous world of “the mainstream.” In case you were wondering, the restrooms are over in that corner, right by the Avenged Sevenfold display. You’re probably here for the Metallica Black Album exhibit or maybe the brand new Mastodon 3D Experience. But I’d like to direct your attention to a new, double installation that threw all of us here for a loop: Baroness’ Yellow & Green.
It’s a pretty ambitious project, and our trustees were originally hesitant to lend their support. Everyone over in the Sludge Department considers the Savannah outfit’s 2007 and 2009 efforts, Red Album and Blue Record, to be two of the best prog-sludge records of the past decade. They’re massive, relentless, and filled to the brim with some seriously sweet solos. Best of all, they showcase a band that’s willing to take chances with melody and harmony within a framework that’s so quick to eschew such elements as superfluous or even detracting. But when we got word that Yellow & Green would be swapping the unyielding brawn for a more restrained, alt-rock sound — and in an ambitious double-LP format, no less — these halls were filled with anxious murmurs.
The first listens were difficult ones. As I’m sure many of you know, years of listening to metal often causes one to develop a carnal craving for blast beats, lacerating riffs, and yowling vocals. Even with a combined 18 tracks and nearly an hour and a half of total listening time, initial listens left the board of trustees wanting. There were hints of that former sound, sure — the four-cylinder churn of “Take My Bones Away” and the sludgy stomp of “Board Up the House.” But where such fury had once been administered in a leaden IV drip, there was now the occasional dose — potent, sure, but fleeting. Transitional bits of folk-tinged ambience — “Twinkler,” “Foolsong,” “Stretchmarker” — turned one donor’s corpse-painted face an even paler white. “Where’s the HEAVY?” he gurgled, grasping at the air for the copy of Seven Churches that wasn’t there. Luckily, an intern was on hand to administer some Venom and bring him back to health.
Frazzled and pessimistic, still they pressed on, determined to give Baroness a chance. And then, something strange happened: once the initial shock of HEAVY deprivation wore off, tracks that were readily dismissed as “bland” or even “poppy” took on a newer, more intriguing light. The nautical gloom of “Cocanium,” with its iridescent synths and grungy chorus, recalled both Helmet and Pelican. And the preceding track, the aforementioned “Twinkler,” previously cast aside as some type of Gregorian sing-a-long, showed its true purpose: a brief moment of somber contemplation before the dizzying, angular showdown.
Ladies and gentlemen, Yellow and Green is not the heaviest work in our collection. Even after dozens of listens, some of our trustees insist that it isn’t even metal. If you’ve just come from the Technical Death Wing, you might cast this LP aside as the musical kin of Muse or Foo Fighters. But therein lies what is perhaps this record’s greatest strength: Baroness has crafted an epic collection of heavy music with two distinct spheres: the hard-hitting paranoia of Yellow, and the more organic, earthiness of Green. At some points, you will feel an urge to mosh. At others, you will find yourself drifting into post-rock bliss. To get the full experience, you should take a little break in between halves. Visit the gift shop. Buy a Fred Durst voodoo doll. But take the time to listen, and all the rhythmic ebbs and flows — and that slight HEAVY deficiency — will start to make sense, loudly and beautifully.
The choice, of course, is yours. There’s always the Avenged Sevenfold display I mentioned earlier..