Things were going well for Philly metal band Baroness. In late May, they released a double album titled Yellow & Green, the band’s third on Upper Darby-based metal label Relapse. The 75-minute-long monster debuted on the Billboard 200 and earned praise from Pitchfork, Spin, the New York Times and Rolling Stone, making it that rare rock album with seemingly universal appeal. With European and North American tours scheduled for the rest of the year, the stars appeared aligned.
Then the unthinkable happened.
On Aug. 15, during a terrible storm, Baroness’ tour bus fell 30 feet from an aqueduct near Bath, England. Lead singer and guitarist John Baizley suffered a broken arm and leg, drummer Alan Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni both suffered fractured vertebrae and guitarist Pete Adams was released from the hospital the following day with minor injuries. They’ve all since returned to the U.S.
Baizley left England about a month after the accident. He granted City Paper his first interview since the homecoming (read the entire interview online at citypaper.net), but requested we not ask about that awful night in Bath. Speaking from his home in Mount Airy, where he has lived with his wife and 3-year-old daughter since January 2011, Baizley was optimistic, intense and reflective. Baroness’ tour dates are cancelled, but there’s no doubt the band will be back in action soon.
Proof can be found in Yellow & Green. It is, in part, an album about growing wiser and stronger through extreme life changes. After 10 years living in Savannah, Ga., moving to Philadelphia was certainly a significant transition. (Baizley wrote some of the album’s songs from his home studio, and others at the band’s practice space in North Wales, Pa.) But the biggest change Baizley encountered was fatherhood.
“With the birth of my daughter, new doors opened up for me as a human being, as a man, as a father,” says Baizley. “That change offered me insight into new things, and all-new problems to reflect upon. And that’s what part of our music is about — understanding ourselves as people put on this earth with the means to question and to explore.”
This giant step in Baizley’s life is reflected sonically on Baroness’ latest. While 2007’s Red Album sounded like Southern-fried prog and 2009’s Blue Record drew comparisons to fellow Savannah sludge-metal bands Black Tusk and Kylesa, Yellow & Green is a very accessible, straightforward rock album that might even earn play on the radio if the radio ever stops sucking.
Most of the songs are heavy, as always, and they’re all more melodic and sturdy. Yellow is the rowdier and more cohesive of the album’s two distinct halves — with the exception of the surprisingly pastoral “Twinkler” — while Green leaps from unabashed pop (“Mtns. [The Crown & Anchor]”) and slow grooves (“Foolsong”) to “Stretchmarker,” a bizarre instrumental buzzing with ambient drones and shimmering, fingerpicked guitar.
Baroness is perfectly aware that Yellow & Green might leave diehard fans scratching their chins. That was the goal. Writing the album was a challenge for the band, and they want listeners to be equally challenged.
“This album might be a bit more accessible in that it’s toned down and more melodic,” says Baizley. “I realize that’s a huge gamble because it’s a different sound than what was previously working for us as a band. Now we’re outside of the box of metal music. It wasn’t in our heart to continue down that path, and we’ll continue to make twists and turns and go wherever our creativity takes us.”
This attitude will have Baroness back on the road in no time.