Now two decades deep into their career, Baroness have the shrapnel to show for it. Anyone with fleeting familiarity of the stoner-metal band knows of the horrific 2012 bus crash that injured four of its members and almost tolled the death knell for the band. But more than 10 years later, the incident appears to be—if not a distant memory—a road bump in the timeline of a band that’s never released a poorly received album. The frequent comparisons to fellow Georgians Mastodon that Baroness drew early in their career fell by the wayside, especially after the crash. The band led by John Baizley cemented its own status as a hard-hitting but redemptive and invigorating group that brought broad strokes of color and flair to a sludgy subgenre.
Which brings us to Stone, Baroness’ sixth full-length and the first without a titular reference to a color. “Loss. Late nights and delirious days,” bassist/keyboardist Nick Jost vaguely reflects on how the record came together. “This album really has the essence of four people having to deal with one another. Deal with what we each throw at the other and the different ways the group responds, in life and in music. Makes me happy to listen to these people I care about so much, take exciting chances and push themselves.” Sebastian Thomson, who joined Baroness 10 years ago and ranks among the best rock drummers of the past 30 years, chimed in more conservatively about Stone: “Even though I know some of the backstory regarding the lyrics, I prefer to let the listener draw their own conclusions about their meaning.”
While Baizley deferred participating in the track-by-track breakdown that follows, and despite Thomson wanting to let listeners interpret its 10 songs mostly on their own, both the drummer and Jost shared some thoughts and recollections about Baroness’ latest masterpiece—out now via Abraxan Hymns.
Sebastian Thomson: We always strive to have a dramatic album intro, which in the past was things like a backwards guitar fade in. We thought this time an actual piece of acoustic music would make a startling juxtaposition to the drum fill that starts “Last Word.” An exciting scene change.
Nick Jost: Cabin psychosis
2. “Last Word”
Seb: I like to think of drum beats as the skeleton to hang the rest of the song on, and I always thought a gallop would be a great rhythm for Baroness to modernize. For example, classics like [Led Zeppelin’s] “Achilles Last Stand,” [Heart’s] “Barracuda,” [Iron Maiden’s] “The Trooper,” and Dio’s “We Rock” use a gallop. For the choruses and outro, I played more of a post-rock or epic new-wave beat, which I think was a surprisingly good contrast. [Lead guitarist Gina Gleason]’s solo has to be mentioned as a milestone for Baroness—not a composed lead melody, but an actual guitar solo.
Nick: A snapshot into our four minds at the outset of making this record together. Some of the most ripping drumming recorded.
3. “Beneath the Rose”
Seb: This track didn't start with a drum beat but with John’s riffing, which fortunately immediately suited my playing. I love how John managed to combine some ’90s aggressive talk-singing with his more anthemic choruses.
Nick: John's got riffs for days. He's got voices in that handsome head of his, too.
Seb: I think this is an interesting step for Baroness. Normally our music is very ornate, very baroque, with many chord changes. Here, however, we went for a hypnotic motorik groove, a more muscular NEU!, a little bit like my old band Trans Am, but this time with John’s poetry.
Nick: Echoes. Listening to this song is always a highlight every time. I can see and feel us recording this late night in a dimly lit room with the winter outside the door. These vocals give me the chills. Thank you, Phil Collins.
5. “The Dirge”
Seb: The first time I heard this John and Gina composition I thought it was a cover of a traditional folk song (it’s not), which I think is a great sign.
Nick: The two continue to explore their voices together, and that has produced many rewarding moments on this record.
Seb: One of the musical objectives of this was to combine a very straight-ahead, burly groove with dream-like pelagic vocals. It’s part of our modus operandi to try to merge vibes that might not make immediate sense.
Nick: A cavedweller’s psychedelic journey.
Seb: The backbeat (snare on two and four) is so common it can be a bit oppressive in rock music. The challenge for me here was to steer away from that, and I think it resulted in a very driving song. This might have my favorite chorus of the entire album.
Nick: Dusty. Prog. Epic.
Seb: This was one of the tougher songs for me to track—not because of anything technical, but because we were writing it in the studio as we went. Hopefully that results in a bit of first-take excitement. This one is also interesting because it’s largely through [composition].
Nick: Does anyone know the best way to start a fire? I just remember being freezing and hearing John and Gina play the end of this song about 300 times until the wee hours. Seb and I making use of the fire pit, finally. Getting it started for those six stringers on one of our last nights in those woods.
9. “Under the Wheel”
Seb: Here I tried to imagine what it would sound like if Stewart Copeland played in Neurosis. I would very much be into that band.
Nick: That string sound really puts me in a particular time. Got that recording myself at a speed that was a fourth down from where I wanted it, and then speeding the tape up. I love what John is able to do over this bass line as the song develops. Smoke show. Seb is at his slinkiest on this one! The second moment that gives me chills every listen is also in this song...just did while listening and writing this.
Seb: Pastoral acoustic music is an important part of Baroness, and also an important part of the sequencing of this album. We get to take a deep breath and reflect on where we've been. Here, John and Gina have tapped into a kind of an imaginary American Pink Floyd sound, which I love.
Nick: The different ways these voices can haunt you on this record.