by James Greene, Jr.
The term "epic" has been bandied about with such regularity in recent years that it hardly has one drop of meaning left. Thanks, Internet. There was really no other way to caption that video of your dad's water-skiing accident on YouTube? "Fucking hilarious" would have done the trick. Now epic is on life support, its reputation tarnished and its power all but depleted. Using those four letters at this point to describe anything, let alone this Baroness album, seems like a lazy cop-out by any journalist too dumb to think harder.
Yet, The Blue Album, the sophomore release from Georgia prog/sludge metal outfit Baroness, truly is epic – crushingly, devastatingly, and beautifully so, a product worthy of that mantle if ever there was one. This is the kind of epic you only see in blockbuster summer movies or Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders or a boat load of Sasquatches fending off a giant attacking squid. If The Blue Album isn't epic, then the sky probably isn't blue and Sarah Palin must completely grasp foreign policy.
Baroness has put together an endless array of rich rock landscapes on Blue, full of texture and warmth but free of pretension and overt, comical testosterone. It's quite easy to get lost in the luscious, flowing cocoon of pentatonic guitar dickery and throbbing drums that sounds (and feels) but a foot away from your frontal lobes when listening. This is definitely a put-your-headphones-on-and-space-out-to-the-groove kind of record (illegal substances optional).
Highlights? The gnarly riffing that kicks off "The Sweetest Curse"; the breakdown at the beginning of "Jake Leg" (tasty as anything Mountain ever wrote); the pensive melody that permeates "The Gnashing"; the feedback swells that close "Ogeechee Hymnal," which seem to become just that – a hymnal, a powerful testimonial expressing reverence for a higher, possibly bearded power.
Speaking of illegal substances, I was absolutely not high when I wrote this review.
Here and there, Baroness takes a break from their deafening whallop to give us gentler (but not forced) acoustic passages. The shimmering opening of "O'er Hell And Hide" is just as astounding as the bruising eruption that follows it. Elsewhere, "Blackpowder Orchard" features a pleasing mixture of clean and fuzz guitar, one that is sure to conjure up images of wood nymphs and elves romping gaily through a dewy morning meadow.
Again, not high when I wrote this.
The Blue Album draws to a close with the reflective reprise "Bullhead's Lament." It's a relaxing moment of clarity not unlike the closing music of Jaws, a tender piece of music that allows for the absorption of the adventure preceding it. Thus ends a tidal wave of an album sure to top every serious metal connoisseur's "best of" list come December.
One caveat: I appreciate The Blue Album's alluring cover artwork featuring Wynonna and Ashley Judd in the buff resting amidst a school of catfish, but it appears the artist took some liberty in representing the latter. Ash has never been that rotund, nor will she ever be. It's still an absolutely gorgeous piece of art, but by nature I must object to any representation of a Judd that isn't at least 80% accurate.
I dole out a full four wood nymphs for this spectacle of an album.