Released in late September, Baroness’s Relapse full-length debut Red Album has taken over the metal world. Its ascent is an intense upward spiral that is almost as dizzying as the album’s relentlessness. Red Album channels intricate swirls of cool moodiness and eerie ambience before propelling forth into lumbering, beastly songs that merit accreditation to friends and fellow luminaries Mastodon and Neurosis.
"I’ve heard people say this album is doing well but I wouldn’t say so,” admits guitarist/vocalist John Baizley on behalf of the Savannah, Georgia-via-Lexington, Virginia quartet. (It’s rounded out by drummer Allen Blickle, bassist Summer Welch and guitarist Brian Blickle.) "We’ve just been playing music as actively as finances and families will allow. We started with empty clubs and basement shows, trying to ensure that the trajectory of this band is as natural as it can be. We have modest punk rock backgrounds. We want to be respectful of where we come from. Nothing should come at the expense of our morals.”
Keeping your head screwed on straight can be a daunting task for any musician when your album has been dubbed imposing and a bona fide epic, even more so when it applies to your debut long-player. This is the time when most emerging artists strive to be concise in an effort to win over the hesitant masses. Red Album, however, eschews such notions. Sprawling and moderately experimental, it relishes in its vastness without losing touch with listeners. Then again, Baroness has had four years and little more than two EPs and a split CD to get it together."It got to the point where if it went another six months, we’d have been discouraged to make a full-length. That pressure had come,” says Baizley about anticipation for a full Baroness effort. "We — and our fans — started to wonder if we were capable of writing something longer than 20 minutes. Fortunately, we did what we know and improved on what we were weaker at. This album streamlines things. It’s a testament to that [ability].”Known best for aggressively straightforward sonic dirges heavy on doom-ish low end and fuzzy guitars, the experimentation on Red Album has caught some long-time fans off guard. While the progression has been deemed for the better in most cases, it is still hard to mask universal shock at Baroness’ forays into patient textures.
"The change musically seems drastic to some,” Baizley notes. "To use the metaphor, we capitalised on some colours we hadn’t touched on the palate but there were years between releases, shows and whatever. You’re going to see some change. It seems big to some people but to us, it was a tectonically slow shift.”Shrugging off the notoriety and subsequent expectation to succeed, Baizley maintains his humility. The external metal world may be up in arms about these potential successors to the progressive metal throne but internally, Baroness keeps their feet firmly planted in the trenches.
"I do appreciate that people like Red Album. That doesn’t go unnoticed. But we feel that the higher up we’re listed [in various contexts], the greater distance there is to potentially fall in terms of credibility or respect. We plug on as if nothing’s happening.” Keith Carman
2. Municipal Waste The Art of Partying (Earache)
The epitome of enjoyable metal is a sound that makes you want to get really drunk and then punch some stuff — and there are few bands that encapsulate that desire like Municipal Waste. The band’s third full-length, The Art of Partying, saw the crossover thrashers spread their alcoholic annihilation to greater audiences, including a summer set at Wacken Open Air in Germany. Picking up where 2005’s Hazardous Mutation left off, The Art of Partying succeeds in bringing metal, hardcore and punk fans together under one roof, and then creates enough chaos to blow that roof off.Bill Whish
3. The Locust New Erections (Anti-)
If there’s any band capable of making their listeners consistently feel like they’re completely losing their mind, it’s San Diego’s the Locust. Pounding, brooding, musically confusing and tight as hell, the band have staked a name for themselves through a process of aggressive alienation. New Erections makes for the perfect next step for such a band; distancing themselves from the non-stop onslaught of screaming and blast beats that got them this far, New Erections is awash in atmospheric breakdowns, grotesque melodies, and even (gasp!) repetition of some parts. Then it gets fast and makes you feel crazy all over again. Sam Sutherland
4. The Dillinger Escape Plan Ire Works (Relapse)
Tech-metal geeks and hardcore kids awaited Ire Works with much anticipation: would it rival Dillinger’s last release, the 2004 masterwork Miss Machine? That album combined unlikely elements of technical hardcore, metal, industrial and melodic rock in a way that none of their peers could hope to imitate. It sounds cliché to say, but here they take their pop melodies further ("Dead as History”) and also get more noisy and experimental than ever ("When Acting as a Wave”). Dillinger should shed the technical metalcore completely and keep expanding, as Ire Works has indeed emerged as a better album than Miss Machine, and proves they shine brightest at the most unlikely times. Greg Pratt
5. Between the Buried and Me Colors (Victory)
With their latest, BTBAM have shown a keen ear for progression without jettisoning the elements that brought them to prominence in the first place. While inclusions such as country hoedowns, lengthy acoustic bridges, and jazz-inspired chording may seem unnecessary, it’s what their fan base has come to expect from North Carolina’s premier progressive metal export. Still packing merciless death metal, Gothenburg harmonies, blackened thrash, and numerous other wide-ranging elements into one overwhelming, yet undeniably coherent package, the bar for technicality in extreme music has once again skyrocketed up a few notches. Max Deneau
6. Every Time I Die The Big Dirty (Ferret)
The Big Dirty dispelled any thoughts that 2005’s Gutter Phenomenon was a futile album. The versatility of ETID’s music is what has given them guile in a genre that is overflowing with copycats of copycats. Using pop-influenced metal tracks like "We’re Wolf” and "INRIhab” to be countered by sludgy metal-riffed screamo styles of "Rendez Voodoo” and "Buffalo Gals,” ETID have taken the best of their craft and jammed it into The Big Dirty. It utilises the guts from Hot Damn’s ruthlessness and Gutter Phenomenon’s upbeat tricks to create their best all-around work while keeping Keith Buckley’s smart, humorous and creative lyrics in check. Dave Synyard
7. Pig Destroyer Phantom Limb (Relapse)
Always ones to push the envelope, Pig Destroyer took their blistering mayhem to the next level, further cementing their position as one of North America’s hottest grind acts. Phantom Limb saw them further their dedication to innovation and progression, concocting catchy songs all without sacrificing any of the brutality that has characterised their releases to date. This relentless and technical aural assault worked its way into the hearts and minds of metalheads everywhere, assuring Phantom Limb won’t soon be forgotten. Jill Mikkelson
8. Graf Orlock Destination Time Tomorrow (Level Plane)
While initially a band that sample predominantly action/sci-fi films (particularity from the ’80s and ’90s), and whose lyrics are actually cut and pasted dialogue from those, might seem like a joke or gimmick act, Graf Orlock are anything but. Named after the count in Nosferatu, Graf Orlock’s unique lyrical approach combined with contrasting screamed trade-offs, a relentless, vicious amalgam of frantic metallic influences and abuse set them apart from numerous other acts crying about this or decrying that. Destination Time Tomorrow is required for any film geek or fan of frenzied, unrelenting heaviness. Chris Gramlich
9. Torche In Return (Robotic Empire)
Rising from the dissolution of doom gods Floor in 2004, vocalist/guitarist Steve Brooks quickly set aggrieved minds at ease in 2005 with the self-titled effort of his new band Torche. This follow-up EP’s seven songs are knee-deep in sludgy psychedelia and rumbling low-end, which combine to follow an unbridled recipe that produces a batch of unlikely pop songs. The guitars are sodden with so much down-tuning that your soiled shorts will struggle to wrestle your attention away from the endless barrage of punishing melodies. In line with its predecessor’s ruinous low-end pummel, In Return not only works well as a segue into their second album, expected in early 2008 on Hydra Head, but also stands as essential listening. Cam Lindsay
10. Jesu Conqueror (Hydra Head)
Transcending most of the aggression that made Godflesh what it was, Justin K. Broadrick may be getting softer with age but he’s still capable of delivering riffs that can pound you into a spell of rapture. Conqueror captures Broadrick at his mellowest yet, using his penchant for rumbling low-end as a backbone to hoist his gift for melody. The awe-inspiring title track flutters with shimmering chimes and fuzz, and "Mother Earth” takes a page out of Kevin Shields’ Loveless noise experiments. It’s the epic "Weightless & Horizontal” that demonstrates Jesu’s divine doom over ten minutes of crushing splendour. Aggressive music shouldn’t sound this beautiful, but unlike anyone else out there, Broadrick has a way of balancing beauty with belligerence. Cam Lindsay