In the past three years, Baroness has deafened the Triangle five times. Well, they've at least deafened anyone who would listen: In that timespan, The Savannah, Ga., quartet has steadily made the difficult climb from swampy house shows to cushier metal clubs, like Raleigh's Volume 11 Tavern. The band's metal is deeply rooted in punk rock, more Septic Death (dreads and patches) than Sex Pistols (mohawks and safety pins). But that transition is something Baroness has to be ready for right now. This is a band the metal world has been waiting for (sort of), and the band's new label—metal titans at Relapse Records—have mastered a marketing plan for the Georgian crust: "Baroness position themselves at the forefront of heavy music with an epic album that is at once powerful, expressive, confident and commanding," screams a school bus yellow sticker on top of the cover of Red, the third Baroness album. "Baroness' formidable reputation proceeds them for a reason!"
Unfortunately, the sticker in question overlaps a good third of Red's gorgeous Pushead-meets-a-Yes-album-at-an-Indian-reservation cover art drawn by frontman John Baizley, but it also carried a pretty strong "Recommended if you like" list: Fellow statesmen Mastodon, post-rock essentialists Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, heavy chuggers Clutch, epic metal band Isis, weedmen High on Fire, and thrashers Municipal Waste. Interested yet?
Sure, it's typical promotional jargon from a smart record label, but it's warranted and welcomed this time: Red packs the metaphorical metal heat needed to jolt the hearts, heads and fists of purists and casual listeners alike. It thrashes and jams, chugs and harmonizes. It doesn't follow the quiet-loud-quiet pattern that almost every "epic" post-Godspeed You! Black Emperor metal band tries to land. It exercises restraint, just not with the push of a volume pedal, but—instead—compositionally, as a cohesive band. Baroness knows when to hold back and when to release. And, boy, does Red release.
The songs on Red are fully realized, but they're not long just to be long or clever. They move, mixing melody with brutality, harking recent greats like Big Business and Torche and twisting them into calculator rhythms and heavy metal scales spun 'round in abstraction. Baizley pulls shouts from a mixed bag of guttural screams, inviting chants and vaulting melodies. Baizley and Brian Blickle's guitars climb from ribcage-shake to eardrum-pierce, and Summer Welch's bass constricts and releases with precision. And drummer Allen Blickle is so precise and inventive that he's not just the band's backbone: He's the whole skeleton.
Baizley and his boys don't talk about their influences for fear of being pigeonholed. These Georgians have about as much in common with Clutch as they do Mogwai, and while the same could possibly be said for a band like Isis, Baroness turns out songs more sophisticated, entertaining and jarringly brutal than anything Isis has touched. And for the sake of the next Relapse sticker, Baroness sounds like Entombed dancing for rain or Iron Maiden chopped and screwed or Dystopia on uppers. They're equal parts Unwound and Eyehategod, Thin Lizzy and Cavity, John Fahey and My Bloody Valentine. They are the masters of their domain, if such a domain actually exists.
Baroness plays Volume 11 Tavern with Tooth and Morose Vitality Monday, Oct. 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7-$9.