Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Baroness: Yellow & Green (2012)


Baroness has become the latest beloved metal act to abandon metal. Blue Record was the most widely-touted metal album of 2009, appearing on more end-of-year lists than perhaps any other. So the shift away from the genre will be met with antipathy. Among metalheads, the double album Yellow & Green will surely be the most debated record of the year.

Opeth's shift to Heritage is a lot like Baroness's own transformation. In both cases, there is a distinct 70's prog rock influence ("Sea Lungs," or the bass/synth combo of "Cocainium"). In both cases, the transformation should have been expected, given the bands' respective career paths. And in both cases, the work still quite obviously bears the stamp of their respective styles. You can still hear the Baroness all over this one. It's in evidence on the solos, the very Blue mellow parts with harmonized vocals ("Twinkler"), or other Southern-inflected melodies. But there is much more to it.

As with Kylesa's Spiral Shadow, everyone keeps throwing around references to 90's indie rock. Here is almost everything I know about 90's indie rock: My roommate during my freshman year of college was really into Weezer. Whether that has anything to do with indie rock, or if that's what people are referring to with Yellow & Green, I have no idea. But I hear a lot of Weezer resemblance in here. The vocal melodies, especially in the choruses to songs like "March to the Sea" and the ballad "Eula," are definitely Weezer-esque. "Psalms Alive" could practically be a Weezer song, if those guys had the talent to play their instruments with more flourish.

There are plenty of other non-metal aspects to this record. The distortion rarely gives the guitars any crunch, but instead makes them shimmer (see "Foolsong"). Several times I'm reminded of Stone Sour's softer songs in terms of mood and vocal style, like "Mtns. (The Crown & Anchor)" or "Collapse." Post-punk makes an appearance on "Cocainium," dreampop on "Back Where I Belong" (which curiously sounds almost as if the instruments have been backmasked). The solo of "Eula" sounds like it's from Audioslave. Yet, all of these influences are filtered through the band's signature Appalachian prog.

With all the Weezer and Stone Sour references, it probably sounds like I'm trashing this album, but I don't intend to. In fact, there are quite a few incredibly catchy songs here. The best songs of the album are some of the best songs I've heard this year. At other times, the shades of yellow and green sound a little too much like the shades of Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts (especially Green).

In the end, judged purely on the killer vs. filler ratio, Yellow & Green would be an absolute failure, fit for buying a handful of songs off iTunes or whatever. But there are so many musical ideas here, and varying textures, while it's still a cohesive album. It's much more than the sum of its parts.

I can't possibly recommend this album to any metalhead. Yet I can't possibly tell you to stay away. I'm not sure who this is supposed to appeal to, but it appeals to me. Approach with an open mind, if at all.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Buy Yellow & Green


  1. Please stop talking about 'indie rock' and 'hipsters' if your best frame of reference is Weezer and Abercrombie. I'm not trying to be rude, here, but clearly (and by your own admission) you know -very- little about this now decades-old counterculture, which has become a recurring theme on this blog.

    (Weezer and A&F are about as 'Indie' as they are Metal. Trust me.)

    If you yourself are into metal, but like this record, why not just say so, rate it how you think, and report on what you know? Your readers will follow suit: maybe we aren't as narrow-minded as you think?

    Thanks for keeping up the writing. I still find new stuff all the time through this blog, even when I am critical of its content. This is the first review of Y&G I've seen!


  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I like that you pick up on the fact it's by my own admission. I think it's extremely important for a reader to know my frame of reference. Without that, the review means very little. If you read a review of a hypothetical album, and it said it was the most aggressive record they had ever heard, it would be helpful to know if the reviewer's frame of reference includes Napalm Death, or just Lamb of God.

    I bring up the indie rock portion because a lot of commentary on the album makes strong reference to that, and I don't want to leave that out entirely--on the off chance that someone read this review only, and then bought the album, and then they said, "Hey, he didn't say anything about this indie rock influence!" I wanted to ensure that readers would know that I wouldn't know indie influence if I heard it, except in an extremely vague way.

    Re-reading that part, I thought it was a clear transition, but perhaps it was not. I was commenting on what other people were saying first (90's indie rock), then moving on to what I heard in it (Weezer), and throwing out the possibility that these are one and the same (but not outright stating it as fact, because I lack the knowledge base). The A&F reference is connected to the Weezer and alternative rock subculture that I heard in the music, and also the fact that small parts of it are as bland as the colors of those shirts. (For the record, what sources I've seen have labeled Weezer as indie rock, for whatever that's worth.)

  3. This album is far too immediate, desperate, and (unfortunately) rudimentary. Green as a whole is almost entirely unnecessary as the atmospherics and psychedelia become a pastiche of rehashed melodies and structures that could be distilled down in to 3 or 4 tracks. The song-writing is much more straight-forward, which, while being one of the band's goals, has created an album of samesy, limp, and uninspired songs. John's singing is atrocious to the point of being wince inducing and manages to mar mediocre songs to the point of unlistenable. The (post)grunge/alternative influences take over the songs and the "appalachian prog" just becomes a facet, not a motif.

    Now, I have to preface all this by saying Baroness was the band that got me into metal. I heard Second and from that point on it was a slippery slope to orthodox black metal, chaotic grindcore, and every other permutation of extreme metal (over the course of some years). As such, I have pretty strong feeling about any of the material that Baroness puts out.

    I have no issue with a band trying new material, or incorporating new elements, "evolving", etc. But that won't shield them from criticism for poorly executed concepts. I wouldn't recommend this album to anyone, whether of metal persuasion or not.

  4. "Indie" is a bastardized term, sure. I've seen it deployed by the mainstream media on such acts as The Strokes (Debuted on RCA, sold 3.2 million), The white stripes (Grammy winning band on Universal), Weezer (Debut on Geffen, produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars, hit video using licensed footage from Happy Days, sold 3 million +.)

    Dare I mention the "The" bands of the early 00's? The Vines, The Hives, The Sound, The Killers, The Bravery. These were all labelled (ironically by their own -major- labels) as "Indie" at the time.

    Judging Indie Rock as a whole by the standard set by these major label bands is -exactly- like hearing Disturbed and Linkin Park and deciding "Metal SUCKS."

    I get where you are coming from, more like "I have little idea what Indie sounds like, but I think it kind of sounds like Weezer." Totally fair. I hear Weezer in TONS of things, and that is often because of how much they themselves borrowed from 80s new wave, power pop and post punk bands like the Cars, Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Feelies, The DBs and the Replacements, and 50s rock and roll bands like The Crickets.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, as always!


  5. @ WC: Thank you again for your comment. Your more critical comments of late have forced me to ask myself, "WHY did I say this, and say it in this way?" You've forced me to think about these things and, in that way, examine my own philosophy for writing these reviews.

    I don't know if it makes any difference, but my first year of college was 2000-2001, so Weezer only had their first two albums at the time. It seemed like my roommate mostly listened to some kind of acoustic set, possibly all downloaded from Napster. In his defense, he claimed the Deftones as his favorite band at the time, and was into mostly the same music as I was (mainstream/nu-metal).

    Like Josh Haun of THKD, I don't consider myself an expert, although in the realm of metal I'm better versed than most fans (at least in terms of music from the last couple years, when I've been devouring it constantly). Instead I consider myself a fan, a student, and a curious explorer. When I read a professional review in Decibel, I expect the writer to know pretty much everything and to cover all the important points with some authority, but when I read an amateur review it's more like a conversation. They both have their benefits.

    I love your Disturbed/LP analogy, by the way.

    @ kvltblackbeans:

    A completely defensible position. In an earlier draft of this review (few of my reviews go through any draft phase) I had a paragraph about how most of Green could have been cut out and the whole thing put into a single disc. I felt like that discussion derailed my main points and interrupted the flow of the review, so I dropped it. I like the effect that the double-disc format has here, because it gives a sort of psychological break where I feel it was necessary. That said, I've found myself listening to only two or three songs off Green for the past three days (I wrote and finalized this review on Friday after having the promo for a week, so that phenomenon happened after I wrote this). My opinions of an album are always in motion, and I'll be sure to give the whole thing another listen or two before I compile my end-of-year lists.

    I do appreciate the background information you gave. When a band that's so important to you changes direction, your opinions are bound to be much stronger and more bound up in expectations. I really liked St. Anger at first (Metallica was my first musical love), and hate The Haunted's Unseen (they were one of my first more "extreme" bands), so I've had similar experience.

  6. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting you to like this given the lack of metal. It's a well-balanced review.

    I don't hear all that much 90s alt-rock to be honest (I did on Spiral Shadow). I can't quite put my fingers on specific influences and to be honest, I'm not too bothered about trying.

    I don't know many times you have listened end-to-end but it's a (double) album that bears repeated listening well. What's initially filler reveals its charms over time.

    I'll be doing my own review soon but what I will say is that while it's not the album I wanted and it took me a while to forgive it for that, it is a very interesting and enjoyable listen that really grows on you despite its flaws.

  7. I got the downloadable promo last weekend. (I had access to a stream before that, but due to a refusal of equipment access and listening time to come together, I wasn't able to hear that.)

    I listened to it end-to-end fresh every morning (before hearing anything else) Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and listened to it again on Friday just before writing the review. It's the kind of album that does warrant further listening before any final proclamations of its value, but I felt like I had a good enough handle on it to write this. I also wanted to get it out on the release date given its high profile.

    I think those extra listens will be a month or so down the road, so I can come to it from a fresh perspective. It's that kind of album (not unlike Amebix's Sonic Mass was for me last year). In the meantime I'll definitely be rocking "Take My Bones Away," "March to the Sea," and "Cocainium."

  8. I will probably skip this one. Only have so much money to spend on albums, I would rather spend it albums I know I will enjoy.

  9. And that is exactly why I phrased my conclusion the way I did.

  10. After reading several reviews, I decided I had to buy this - glad I did. I like the direction they've taken. The comparison to Opeth's Heritage may not be the best comparison, but I understand it. While Heritage was a big letdown for me, Yellow & Green is not. Seems to me a more natural progression.
    As I get older (34), I seem to understand a less-aggressive approach that a lot of musicians take as they age.

  11. Glad you did. Opeth's transition was a bit more dramatic, but only if you look at the previous two albums alone (you take Damnation and some minor releases into account, and it doesn't seem so dramatic).

    At 30, I also get the less aggressive approach. The aggression is no longer necessary to make a good album, but it does have to have an edge. Soft and pretty with perfect-pitch is not for me.