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Purple Dean Brown , December 8th, 2015 19:00

"Nothing can truly prepare you for a brush with death. The event is [a] unique one, singular to the observer." - John Baizley, Baroness

In August 2012, a month after the release of their ambitious and well-executed double album Yellow & Green, Georgian sludge rockers Baroness were involved in a terrifying bus crash in Bath, England. Travelling from Southampton to the next show in very heavy rain, which seriously affected visibility, Baroness's tour bus careened through a guardrail and plunged 30 feet off a viaduct. Everyone aboard was injured but thankfully no one was killed. In the wake of this life-threatening event, John Baizley - Baroness's founding member, guitarist and vocalist - wrote for the band's website: "Our bus accident left indelible marks, external and internal, physical and mental, you name it. Each of the nine of us went through and continues to go through an entirely different, yet common experience."

Three years have passed, and during that time bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Bickle have left the band on good terms following their recuperation after both suffered fractured vertebrae in the crash. Baizley, who endured a two-and-a-half week hospital stay as a result of his broken bones, spent months in rehabilitation; but both he and Pete Adams (guitars/backing vocals) eventually decided to soldier on with Baroness, refusing to be defeated by brutal circumstance. “I spoke to [Metallica's] James Hetfield, who has also dealt with the fallout from a bus-related accident, and he said, "Life is going to be difficult for a while; but you'll be fine." And once I had done some physical therapy and played guitar again, I thought, 'Yes, I've got this. It's not over'", notes Baizley in the press release that accompanies his band's first post-accident album - and their fourth studio effort overall - Purple.

While it's not short of weighty emotional moments - most explicitly, the poignant and vulnerable 'If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)' - Purple refuses to wallow in misery. Instead it finds positivity in the band's past situational misfortune and the songs surge with this forward vitality. Interestingly, given the personal difficulties prior to its creation, when it comes to the music, Purple sounds like a very natural follow-up to Yellow & Green.  Sadly the band didn't get to properly promote that bountiful record, which saw Baroness fully expand their horizons beyond classic rock-infused sludge metal following the critically acclaimed Blue Record, released in 2009. By fully incorporating their fondness for hard rock, indie, pop, alternative and folk into Baroness's established sludge paradigm, a more melodious, experimental and hook-hungry band emerged on Yellow & Green, with Baizley's scream-free vocals moving right to the foreground.

The sprawling nature of its predecessor has clearly been curtailed on the ten songs that comprise Purple. Two of which are merely soundscapes; 'Fugue' is a placid instrumental reprieve, while 'Crossroads of Infinity' is a rather pointless outro. Overall, however, this album can be fittingly described as a potent consolidation of the distinctive sounds that Baroness, sometimes exclusively, explored on both sides of their 2012 double disc, condensed to their most immediate forms.  'Chlorine & Wine', arguably the strongest track on the anthemic Purple, is a rousing rock song that naturally ebbs and flows between affecting, almost lullaby laments and Queen-esque grandstanding. Its concise and creative songwriting is indicative of Baroness's evolution to date, and Baizley's determined vocals backed by heartening gang chants makes for another passionate highpoint on an album with very few faults.  Prior to this, the first four songs - 'Morningstar', 'Shock Me', 'Try To Disappear', and 'Kerosene' - showcase the band's sharpened verse/chorus song craft, and do so in quick succession.  Baizley's bellowing vocals engage with the equally vibrant and affirmative instrumentation. Each player has a firmly defined role on this album, with the excellent new rhythm-section of Nick Jost and Sebastian Thomson (Trans Am), on bass/keyboards and drums respectively, adding plenty of accented textures and aggressive thrust to Adams and Baizley's twin-guitar thunder and their sparsely-used, yet highly effective harmonising leads.

Since he retired his lion's roar, Baizley's singing has been criticised for sounding one-dimensional from time to time. While he does have his technical limitations, he shrewdly plays to his strengths throughout Purple by investing plenty of passion into the catchy, chest-thumpin' refrains he has clearly spent time honing alongside his expressive turn of phrase. Baizley has matured further as a singer and a songwriter in the years following Yellow & Green; and as a lyricist he is never overly morose or literal here in how he broaches the accident and the physical and emotional pain experienced in its aftermath. However, while such maturity is firmly in place, the band's primal origins still flicker incandescently on occasion. The heat is felt on churning, broiling riffs of 'Morningstar' and the spiralling licks of 'Kerosene'. Both songs recall the band's untameable 2007 full-length debut Red Album, released back when Baroness and their fellow Georgians in Mastodon and Kylesa were fervently barging their way to the vanguard of sludge in the US. But the major difference is that in 2007, Baroness would have raged through numerous tangled movements. Here, and on the emphatic rush of 'Desperation Burns', they know how to confidently hold and release the reins of the mighty riff and it's corralled into a sensibly structured alternative rock song to great effect.

Purple is an album of firsts for Baroness: their first with Jost and Thomson's sterling input; their first for their own label Abraxan Hymns since leaving Relapse's stable; their first with famed producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney); and their first following near-death. It therefore acts as an essential rebirth for an important modern rock band whose sky-reaching career arc almost came crashing down in tragic fashion. But through great hardship and heartache comes a greater understanding and appreciation of the transience of life and the worthwhile beauty that does exist behind all the horror this world can inflict upon us without a second's notice. This experience of overcoming grave adversity and living to tell the tale exists at the thumping heart of Purple, and accordingly in the accomplished, passionate and fully mended band who has gifted it to us.