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Ferraro finds Baroness' album Yellow/Green impressive

We really don’t know what we mean when we discuss metal. We certainly understand what we’re talking about – it’s pretty impossible to hear the "Hit the Lights" intro and not make the devil horns – but the genre, as a sub-genre of rock and roll itself, is so fragmented and divided that it’s ludicrous to assume anyone really has a handle on the definite difference between speed and thrash metal.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any differences between the myriad metal sounds, but the differences tend to be either regional or so subtle as to be unable to really withstand the full, constrictive power of the word "genre"; the wall between the sounds seems to be fairly porous, with the fundamental elements of each sound seeping frequently into the other styles.

Baroness is a band that perhaps deserves the very simple title of "metal" to describe its overall, fundamental approach, but is also an act that is equally composed of the various elements of the other sub-genres of the style. They aren’t quite "thrash", they certainly aren’t in that sphere of metal acts who strive for pure speed and energy (think The Human Abstract or August Burns Red), and they don’t possess the somber overtones predominately seen in acts frequently labeled "doom" or "black" (Lumbar, Crowbar). But their music incorporates so many elements of not only metal (the mythical imagery, the esoteric lyrics, the brutality, the musicality), but also other genres as well (folk, classical, pop rock) that the music is both definitely "metal" and also something entirely beyond it.

 The band, ever since their outstanding full-length debut The Red Album, have attempted to truly push their sound beyond the constraints of their past efforts. The Red Album was a crushingly brutal yet eloquently constructed southern metal mini-masterpiece, and Blue Record, the 2009 follow-up, continued the elegance of the first album’s compositions, but incorporated more diversity into the actual progressions of the songs, finding room for more advanced, intricate guitar compositions and more variety in tone and speed.

Yellow/Green is the band’s 2012 double album, and their best offering to date. It’s not the best because it’s the heaviest, or the fastest, but because it is the fundamentally logical yet brilliantly exciting culmination of the efforts of the band on previous records. It still hammers as hard as their best straight forward metal bangers of the past ("Take My Bones Away" on the yellow half and "The Line Between" on the Green Half"), but it is also an exceptionally well balanced record, deftly inserting exotic chordal arrangements, layered breakdowns that involve reverb-drenched guitar swells and shifts ("Mts – The Crown and the Anchor"), and even records that sound as if they would fit in perfectly on your local alt-rock FM station ("Board up the House", "Psalms Alive"). But just because the record isn’t exactly as "heavy" as its previous efforts doesn’t mean it isn’t as engaging. The band doesn’t rely too heavily on any one particular motif or musical tactic. Instead, it bounces quickly but intelligently between the myriad elements that make up the fundamental, essential elements of modern metal – virtuosity, grandness, and crushing, raging, fists-in-the-air power.

For a double album, Yellow/Green manages the impressive feat of remaining exciting and fresh even as the run time approaches an hour and a half. This is achieved through not only the aforementioned balancing of metal and melodic, powerful and subtle (there aren’t many strikingly similar songs on the album, but any songs that do somewhat resemble one another either structurally or tonally are placed far enough apart that they end up sounding appealing synthetic rather than lazily dull) but also through the hinge song between the two halves – "Green Theme". As the opening track for the second half of the double record, "Green Theme" is an anthemic power metal instrumental that rejuvenates the listener and prepares her for the Green half of the record, a half that is perhaps more subdued than the Yellow portion, but ultimately, I believe, more rewarding upon repeat listens.

As a whole, Yellow/Green is impressive not merely because of its artistry, but also because of its status as a metal double album that doesn’t drag or grate. Baroness have crafted a reputation upon their impressive musicality and their refusal to allow their music to stagnate. Yellow/Green is the sort of record a metal band makes when they become comfortable with themselves to actually explore the various parts of metal – interwoven guitar harmonies that are more than just glorified riffs, pop-inspired arrangement techniques, guitar tones that go beyond "angry" and "crunchy" – that can give the genre the ability to make music that is equal parts thrillingly in tune with the standards of the genre itself but also melded with the influences of the external musical world.

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