Baroness, Blue Record (Relapse)
The Red Album, the 2007 debut full-length from Georgia psychedelic hard rockers Baroness, was very good. The altogether excellent follow-up, Blue Record, then, shouldn't be a big surprise. And yet it's a shock—far better than anyone might have reasonably expected, ferocious and mature, a fully-formed statement of a fearless artistic vision and one of the best rock records released this year.
The component parts of Blue Record are easy to recognize—Southern rock, Thin Lizzy, Physical Graffiti-era Led Zeppelin, a little of the Melvins' pop-minded sludge—but they all add up to something particularly twangy and majestic. There are essentially six songs on the disc, set off by several short acoustic or ambient interludes. Themes from the interludes appear later in the longer songs—the sharp, galloping riff in "A Horse Called Golgotha" builds on the looser melody of the preceding "Ogeechee Hymnal," and the delicately structured refrain from "Steel That Sleeps the Eye" also appears, in rough-hewn anthem form, in the ensuing "Swollen and Halo." But as solid and considered as its underlying framework is—anchored by Allen Bickle's notably fierce drumming—the immediate appeal of Blue Record is the dynamic interplay of guitarists Pete Adams and John Dyer Baizley, who match fireworks with luxurious, spaced-out leads and fat, bottom-heavy riffs with gentle unplugged passages.