Looking back over the H-T-A picks for 2009, most of the albums/artists were covered in some form or another throughout the year. The top 10 in particular, understandably, received plenty of attention. With one nagging exception: Baroness and The Blue Record.
Granted, I did nod towards the release beforehand and a video thereafter, but for such a soaring album that managed to nab the number 4 slot, it received no review and all too little mention up to that point. I caught them live in November too but failed to write anything.....double jeopardy?? Either way, the balance shall be redressed right now.
A free-flowing, very natural sounding album, the Blue Record picks upwhere its predecessor (Red Record) left off....then adds infinitely more to the mix. Despite being an excellent record in its own right, Red's chief strength lay in the beefy riffs that lingered long in the memory. Blue offers more space, influence, and a completely enveloping sound. Mastodon are still a close sonic cousin here, but Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss are also in town for the holidays, adding to the chaos. This, however, is controlled chaos. Everything on Blue feels finely honed, tuned to the exact calibration required for any given moment within a song.
The Sweetest Curse bridges the two releases perfectly, resurrecting the powerful riffs once again whilst adding moments that wander more widely, peeking into cracks that the band may previously have ignored. As one ventures deeper into the album, Baroness linger more and more in these nooks, digging out new ideas and taking them along for the rest of the ride. Jake Leg winds and turns with athletic pace, still finding moments to breathe and let the guitar heroics take centre stage but always keeping the listener engaged. Steel That Sleeps... slows things for a moment, replete with meditative vocals and sleepy acoustics, only to herald a threatening finale that announces Swollen & Halo in an ominous manner. The latter builds into a driving Colossus, finding innumberable ways to show off the band's furious beauty.
A Horse Called Golgotha perhaps best demonstrates the allure of the album as a whole, if a snapshot were needed. With bombastic enthusiasm, it walks the line between the brash vehemence of heavy metal and the graceful positivity that bands like Torche have recently embraced. Elsewhere the reverb drenched guitars echo the fine influence of Dinosaur Jr. Everything mixed together with masterful strokes and an expert ear. O'er Hell And Hide also charges along with a confidence that only a band with this true mastery of their art can achieve. Integrating sampled quotes only adds to the atmosphere, but the key is again in the skilled playing that opens and closes sonic paths as quickly as the riffs jink and turn.
The preamble to this gushing obviously gives away the game, that this is a top notch album and one that graced the final part of the year with power and poise. The albums ahead of Blue would probably still have been there even if it had been released much earlier. But it would certainly have had more time to settle and give them a damn good run for their money.