With the release announcement for Stone, Baroness frontman, guitarist, and songwriter John Baizley discussed how they always push forward and try new things. That may be so internally, but the experience of listening to Stone reveals more of a back-to-basics sound in the wake of their sprawling 2019 LP Gold & Grey. Stone incorporates the heavy riffs, thundering grooves, and melodic hooks that have been the band’s trademark for years. It also takes time to revisit the band’s folkier, acoustic side. The way the acoustic tracks are spread across the record gives Stone a resemblance, both in sonics and construction, to their Blue Record from 2009.
Of course, it’s not the same. Besides Baizley, the band’s entire lineup differs from back then. This is also their first self-produced record. The group rented a house in upstate New York, created their own makeshift studio space, and got to work. The results sound fantastic. The guitars crunch, the bass rumbles, and the drums are crisp and snappy.
Stone‘s first single, “Last Word”, is a classic Baroness rocker. It opens with a pounding drum fill, then immediately launches into a fast, chugging guitar riff. Baizley enters with his trademark melodic bellow of a voice. Guitarist Gina Gleason, who matches Baizley’s bellow with her own, ably harmonizes. The guitars back off for the chorus, allowing the vocal hook, “I remember every last word / I remember it all”, to be front and center. Baroness add subtle organ backing in the second verse, filling out the sound. Gleason’s ripper of a guitar solo is notable for its distinct echoing sonic quality as if it was recorded in the bathroom while the rest of the record was done in the living room.
“Last Word” is Stone‘s second track, and the next two are essentially Baroness’ experimental songs here. “Beneath the Rose” opens with ominous guitar noise and untethered drum fills from Sebastian Thomson. Just over the 30-second mark, it kicks into more of a typical Baroness groove as the guitar riff rises in pitch and tumbles over itself. When Baizley’s vocals come in, though, he’s speaking. He’s bellowed and howled over the years, but the spoken word is distinct and different for him. Lyrically, the song seems abstract but ominous.
The end of “Beneath the Rose” pushes directly into “Choir”, another spoken word track. Musically, this is a fascinating experiment because most of it is a static heavy metal groove. A simple, driving drumbeat pushes the song along as bass and guitars lightly chug. Occasionally, a catchy guitar riff or drum fill interrupts the grooves. Baizley speaks in purple prose, with passages like, “For her the sweet behemoth / That slavers while it grins / With fangs of burnished copper / And milk beneath its skin.” It’s moody, atmospheric, and compelling. Thomsen’s drum fills near the end are huge and vast, echoing around the room. Baizley closes, whispering, “I hope she sings forever / In silver notes of woe / For when the dirge is over / We go to ground below,” as a buzzing sound overwhelms everything else.
The acoustic centerpiece, “Dirge”, completes this trilogy of songs that reference each other. It begins with distortion as if coming in as a poor radio signal, with a hint of the buzz still lingering. Once it resolves about 25 seconds, the song is sung harmoniously with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment. For the last chunk, the guitar disappears, and a low, third voice comes in over a static buzz. The first half of Stone ends quietly as Baizley sings, “I know my breath is failing / Now my time is up.” Stone also opens and closes with acoustic tracks. “Embers” begins the record with folky, finger-picked guitars and simple strums, with Baizley and Gleason harmonizing softly as a minute-long intro before “Last Word” kicks in. “Bloom” is essentially the same song as “Embers”, but expanded. It uses the same guitar pattern and vocals, albeit with different lyrics.
The bulk of Stone‘s back half finds Baroness stretching out and using their jamming chops. The straightforward heavy rocker “Anodyne” gets in and out in just over three minutes. It’s solid but doesn’t have anything particularly unique musically, and it doesn’t have a big melodic hook. “Shine,” up next, is more distinctive. It begins with acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, of all things, really playing up the delicate side of the band. Then the big chugging riffs kick in right around the one-minute mark. Baizley and Gleason shout along together, at least until the pre-chorus when Baizley starts singing on his own. “Shine”, with a great big, heavy riff and a soaring harmony from Gleason, is plenty distinctive. Like “Last Word”, it features an extended outro, although it feels a little long-winded this time.
“Magnolia” also begins quietly, with nature sounds and guitar harmonics. When the vocals and acoustic guitars come in, it sounds very similar to the Baroness classic from the Blue Record, “Steel That Sleeps the Eye”. There are subtle keyboards and small electric guitar bits, so it’s not a complete retread. Much like that song, however, the heavy section kicks in just after the two-minute mark. “Magnolia” plays with dynamics, though, with another short quieter part about halfway through. It also features one of Stone‘s more intriguing guitar sections, as Baizley and Gleason twine around each other for 45 seconds.
Stone is another strong entry into Baroness’ catalog of quality albums. The oddball spoken word departures in “Beneath the Rose” and “Choir” are fascinating. It’s also very good to hear Gina Gleason’s harmonies so much this time; she’s a great complement to Baizley’s voice and a real asset to the group. The acoustic tracks are worthwhile, and the big, catchy singles “Last Word” and “Shine” are sure crowd-pleasers. However, it’s not as ambitious as the dual-color records Yellow and Green or Gold & Grey, and it comes up a little short compared to the excellent Blue Record.