Taking Cover: Iyer borrows from M.I.A, Ronnie Foster, and others.

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Blue Record, the second and latest full-length from the Georgia quartet Baroness, begins with something you might not expect from a metal band: a moment of calm. Quiet introductions are not unheard of; Metallica kicked off 1984’s Ride the Lightning with acoustic guitar. And yet “Bullhead’s Psalm,” the fingerpicked instrumental that commences Blue Record, is more than just a prelude to an otherwise bombastic album. Rather, it’s a gentle opening to a remarkably varied release. Baroness established its liberal bona fides in 2007, when, in the wake of several promising EPs, the band released its critically drooled-over debut, Red Album. Despite the primary color fixation implied by its (and Blue Record’s) title, Baroness’ first full-length is distinguished by a multiplicity of influences: Southern rock, acoustic fantasias, and the sort of experimentation that smacks of paisley amplifiers and all-night happenings. Add to that a drummer who favors New Wave–ish grooves over hyperkinetic thrash and you’ve got an album that defies the standard vocabulary of underground metal. Which is not to say that Baroness is never “brutal” or “extreme;” it’s just that the blackened elements are always tempered by something else. Consider, for instance, “The Sweetest Curse,” the song that follows “Bullhead’s Psalm.” The composition begins with a thick, galloping riff, performed by the band’s two guitarists, John Baizley and Pete Adams, and bassist, Summer Welch. You might expect Baroness’ drummer, Allen Blickle, to push the tempo with a flurry of activity on the kick drum. But when he enters, Blickle plays just behind the beat, generating a certain amount of funk in the process. It’s not until Baizley begins singing—and, unlike a lot of underground types, he really does sing—that the song becomes unmistakably metal. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, on Blue Record, the surprises come almost as fast as the chord changes, of which there are plenty. Baizley, the frontman and only guitarist who has played on every Baroness release, charts a labyrinthine route to the heart of a composition. If, after a lick or two, he and his bandmates seem to have settled on rainbow-colored doom-pop (“Swollen and Halo”) or swords-and-sorcerers balladry (“O’er Hell and Hide”), just wait; Baroness is never more than a few measures away from a change that might not make sense until you hear it a second time. Even “The Gnashing,” a relatively straightforward tune that evokes Andrew W.K.’s major-label jock jams, begins with a pastoral melody reminiscent of the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention. The reason all of this works so well is that the band wants it to. The stylistic shifts are not there for the sake of radicalism but because, as detailed in a recent Decibel magazine cover story, each member brings to the table a different set of musical interests. Want to hear what democracy, not to mention next-generation metal, sounds like? Blue Record is a great place to start. —Brent Burton