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Monday 18 September 2023

Reviews: Baroness, Brujeria, She Burns Red, Thorn (Reviews By Rich Piva, Danika Ulrich, James Jackson & Joe Guatieri)

Baroness - Stone (Abraxan Hymns) [Rich Piva]

I have been all in on Baroness since I heard the first note of the Red Album. Seeing them open for Opeth for that record, in a tiny club paying an extended set and running out of songs to cover for a no-show High On Fire sealed the deal. So, a new Baroness record is a holiday for me, even if I didn’t love the last one. There has been a subtle and sometimes not so subtle shift from the heavy that the band brought in the early days, and a way slicker production value that I have never really loved, but generally new Baroness is some degree of good Baroness. Now, with Stone, the band’s sixth album, I am sensing that shift continuing, but not leaving behind the amazing songwriting and playing that the band has always been about. People yearning for the days of Red and Blue need to shift their expectations as this is a maturing, more introspective band, but boy when they want to, they can sure bring it.

Take the song and first single, Last Word. That is classic and trademarked Baroness. What a killer track and exactly what I am expecting. How about that solo? I love the dual vocals on the last verse towards the end, and the band brings the catchy, as I really do remember every last word. No fan should be disappointed with the first real track on Stone. Beneath The Rose has a great fast-paced opening riff and some nice drum work. The pseudo spoken word vocals did not do it for me at first, but I dig the kind of sloppy punk aesthetic to this track. You may not know it is Baroness until the bridge kicks in, where you get those trademarked layered vocals to partner with the angry talk-singing. Love the dual solo too.

With zero break in tracks, you merge right into Choir, which opens with more talking, that honestly starts to wear a bit thin. I am not sure what they were going for with this track, but of the 30 plus they had written I think we could have found something else to fit in here. It sounds like a weird 80s movie montage, and not in a good way. The acoustic bridge between tracks, The Dirge, is short but has sweet harmonies that I so want to hear more of from the band. Anodyne has a nice chug to it and is back to that Baroness sound. This is my favorite track on Stone.

Shine is another strong track, but I think the production is minimizing the impact these songs could have. It sounds more indie rock than sludge, that is not necessarily a bad thing, you just have to set your expectations. Magnolia starts out soft but winds up being the heaviest song on Stone. This is the epic track I want on every Baroness record, as the seven-plus-minutes of it is another highlight for me.

Doesn’t it seem like there should already be a track called Magnolia on a Baroness album? I like Under The Wheel, it is the rawest track on Stone, but may be a minute or two long, but not if it was the closer, which I think it should have been. The acoustic Bloom finishes us off with a bit of a whimper and would have been better placed midway through the record, if at all.

Don’t go into this looking for a heavier, rawer Baroness, because Stone is not that. There are a few glimpses of it, but this is probably the least heavy of all their albums, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad, just different. I still think the production on Stone is too much and could be dialed back more than a couple of notches. But when Baroness hits, they hit hard, as the songs that are like on Stone I really like.

Is this a complete, end to end Baroness classic? I need more time with it, I only have had this for a few hours. Ask me again when I can really dig in, but my initial feeling is no. It is another later period Baroness record with some strong tracks and a few that could have been reconsidered. We shall see if this is a heavy rotation, end to end, enduring time listen, but for now, take the gifts that are tracks like Last Word, Anodyne, and Magnolia and hope that spending more time with Stone allows for the true beauty of it to sink in. Time will tell. 7/10

Brujeria - Esto Es Brujeria (Nuclear Blast) [Danika Ulrich]

For those who are unfamiliar with Brujeria, the rumours are that they’re satanic drug lords who just so happen to be in a death metal band on the side. Following five years of regular touring and one-off single releases, the brutal Mexican death metal veterans are set to release their fifth full-length album, Esto Es Brujeria. The much-anticipated album is the follow-up to 2016's Pocho Aztlan and the second with label Nuclear Blast Records.

The lengthy album spanning 16 tracks was created in numerous studios worldwide including Chile, the UK, and the US. Esto Es serves as the album's opening track, it uses traditional instruments over grindcore in an insane way. Rapid blast beats are found throughout the album but especially in track 2, El Patron Del Reventon. Slower, sludge style death metal is featured on track 2. With the slower segments constantly on the verge of slipping into that dull groove that the band sometimes leans into.

Although a solid album, it’s very samey compared to the last four full-lengths. Brujeria still sounds as brutal as they did in the 90’s but I expected a little more progression in their sound. 6/10

She Burns Red - Out Of Darkness (Self Released) [James Jackson]

This album landing in my inbox to review could not have come at a better time, the band are on tour and supporting South Of Salem towards the end of the year and whilst my fanboying for the Bournemouth boys is well known, She Burns Red, of whom the Salem boys are huge fans, are an absolute mystery to me. 

According to the band’s description of their songs, Rise And Fall, the album’s second track, previously released as a single was written after and about the recent Covid pandemic, it’s the first track they’d written together and shows how solid an act they really are, lyrically it’s mature and heartfelt. Killing Time is an anthem for the downtrodden, those of us caught in the menial but necessary evil that is the 9 to 5 grind, the waste of potential and enjoyment of all that life could offer; however there is hope. 

There’s a feel of Foo Fighters within the track Crosshairs, another track previously released as a single and despite its rather dark theme of bad relationships, it’s a surprisingly upbeat sounding. In the words of She Burns Red, the final track, Out Of Darkness is an ode to the end of a relationship, acknowledging the sadness that will undoubtedly be felt but knowing that things can and will undoubtedly be better; that arching narrative of despair and hope encapsulated in one song. 

Out Of Darkness is an album dedicated to the trials of life, from opening track Touch to the closing refrain of Out Of Darkness the frailty of the human condition is laid bare. I’ve only scraped the surface here but these tracks, chosen as singles for obvious reasons, showcase the talent and immense potential that She Burns Red have and at just over half an hour long and nine songs, it’s an impressive promising debut. 9/10

Thorn - Evergloom (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Joe Guatieri]

I’m going to be honest right off the bat: I’m very new to listening to death metal. The subgenre has never really been my thing as I never had a proper starting point for it and I thought that it had become cliche as there’s so much of it out there. I instead jumped head first into other extreme styles like grindcore and black metal as they were more appealing to me. However, I look forward to being challenged by Thorn’s new album Evergloom nonetheless.

The opener Spectral Realms Of Eternal combines doom and death metal elements with its all-encompassing guitars, fast explosive drums, and spine-chilling vocals from the pits of hell. This song goes in several directions, such as transitioning to synth-like lead guitars that sound very distant, with most aspects landing.

Track four, Gaze Of The Seer, stands out as an unexpected entry on this album. The heavy syncopated guitars remind me of industrial metal bands like Fear Factory, incorporating moments of extreme noise which I love. This song has no rules, playing to their strengths despite the lacklustre drumbeat.

Unfortunately, as I delve deeper into the record, their sound reverts to the mean. For example, with track six Phantom Noose, it may be fast and aggressive but it doesn’t present anything new from what we’ve heard thus far. The bass just feels like a total afterthought as there is nothing about it here that stands out to me, to a point where I don’t even think that it’s being played on the track.

Consistent guttural vocals become hindered by mostly similar sounding drums and an under-utilised bass guitar. 5/10

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