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Monday 17 June 2019

Reviews: Baroness, H.E.A.T, Alien Within, Downtown Association

Baroness: Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns)

Baroness are a band that feel like they have been a huge part of my life and looking back on it they have been, their seminal second album Blue Record turns 10 this year and those of us who have been on this ride since before then, with the debut Red Album in 2007, will have seen Baroness evolve into the multi-faceted musically dexterous, emotionally driven band they are today. Cut from the same initial cloth as Mastodon and Kylesa, this Georgian (as in state of) band much like their compatriots have shifted out of the sludge sound that defined them early on, bringing a broader range of sounds as they progressed. Gold & Grey is their sixth chromatically themed album once again wrapped in the beautiful artwork of frontman John Baizley, it also marks their final album that will have a colour given to it. As with all of Baizley’s writing it’s very personal and reflective, musing on the nature of the band after 12 years and a very torrid history, most recently the horrendous bus crash in Bath, between Yellow & Green and Purple which injured two people seriously.

On Purple it was a band re-establishing themselves, while still in convalescence, Gold & Grey is a now the sound of an almost completely different band, from the one on Red Album as guitarist Pete Adams left and has been replaced by Gina Gleason, Baizley credits Gina along with Nick Jost (bass, synthesizer, keyboards) and Sebastian Thomson (drums) as pushing him to “become a better songwriter, musician and vocalist” and it’s a difficult point to critique. Take I’d Do Anything it’s a maudlin number that is built around Baizley’s rough, emotive vocal backed by some atmospheric synths and single electric guitar, about as far from sludge metal as you can get as is Emmett –Radiating Light which could be Tom Waits, while Tourniquet has that balance of light and shade. This difference to where they have come from is also true of the numerous interludes that fill the album setting the scenes for song Anchors Lament or just giving it a natural flow Blankets Of Ash.

For this record the band have relocated to Philadelphia from Georgia and it’s meant that Gold & Grey is an almost cathartic experience, moving away from one chapter onto the next, in the most blazing way possible the shimmers of gold hinting at triumphs but the grey remembering tragedy. Musically the band has never been more adventurous, their base sound is still there but they just layer it with everything they have learnt over these 12 years, for instance Borderlines the first single from this album, which comes in at track 15 has a nod to the modern prog sound with its fluid guitar sound and bounce as synths phase in for what is a complex but undoubtedly catchy song, it’s the opposite of the intensely final song psych driven Pale Sun, the punchy I’m Already Gone and the heavy Throw Me An Anchor, these songs in themselves retain a level of accessibility but all show what a diverse record Gold & Grey is. There have been some comments over the production of this record but personally I love the work Dave Fridmann has done with The Flaming Lips and I think he gives the album uniqueness in a world of crystal clear sound. Baroness now can do anything they want musically, but this could just be their masterpiece. 10/10

H.E.A.T: Live At Sweden Rock (earMusic)

I’ve seen H.E.A.T live a number of times and every time their style of synth drenched sleazy AOR impresses on the live stage more so than they have on record. So how do they stack up as a recorded-live band? Well this is their second live record but their first with a visual (Blu-Ray/DVD) accompaniment and it’s comprised of songs from their most recent release Into The Great Unknown along with some older songs. Performed in front of fellow Swedes they are almost preaching to the converted as the crowd seem into it from Bastard Of Society until the very end, it also means that much of the between song banter is in Swedish which may throw non Swedes out of the illusion that they are there for a moment but the songs are strong enough and obviously built for the live stage.

Although what you do notice here that I haven’t on either their albums or when I’ve seen them is the limitations of Erik Grönwall’s vocal limitations, this could be due to studio assistance and when you are watching them his on stage charisma means that you are in the moment. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it on the DVD but when just presented with the audio, he hasn’t got the greatest range. Still if you want a snippet of what H.E.A.T are like live or indeed you were at the show and want to relive it then it may be worth picking up this CD/DVD set, other than that file under: fans only. 6/10

Alien Within: Blessed By The Fallen (Self Released)

Athenians Alien Within (formerly Alien TV) certainly take their stoner rock sound from some of the leaders in the genre, starting out as a punk band their musical style is influenced by Corrosion Of Conformity and Monster Magnet with heavy hitting riffs and burly vocals leading the charge, they know when to riff hard but also when to ease off and bring in melodic lead line or swirling solo. Four of the five members met while on the same paintball team which is a neat origin story but like those ball bearings there is a punch to this full length release. Red River has Pepper and co all over it, while Too High With The Devil brings in some blues chops especially in the middle eight, Downtown Miners has that desert rock haze building a slow and deliberate fuzz and a curveball comes with the thrashy Shaken Dismantled Abused. Mostly though Blessed By The Fallen has big stoner riffs bursting out of your speakers (no matter how big), which for my money puts them at the same level as their influences as everything here is played really well, from the gargantuan riffs, with the flourishes of blues funk and soul, to the excellent vocals and the crisp production it’s nine tracks that will get your fist pumping. I’ve made no bones about how good Greek stoner rock is and also how much I enjoy it but I’d put Alien Within up with Nightstalker and Planet Of Zeus, hail the riff! 8/10

Downtown Association: Born Enraged (New Dream Records)

From the cityscape of Thessaloniki Downtown Association is apparently “the outcome of some dead-serious problem bastards weirdly meeting under unknown situations and forming an urban-toxic rock n roll ensemble”. So yeah with that formation story you’ve hopefully got an idea what they may sound like. If not then I’d say they are a sleazy hard rock band with the same dangerous attitude of Motley Crue or Skid Row, though with a modern edge. Dean Mess’s vocals are rough and whiskey soaked, while the guitar of George Matikas is slinky and filthy as the rhythm section of Tasos D. and
Nik Danielos keep things nice and thick. They’ve got a mantra to raise hell however they are playing with some done-to-death tropes that really bore you after a few songs. They maybe Born Enraged but this album doesn’t sound more than mildly miffed. 5/10

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