The Best Songs Of 2015: Baroness, “Shock Me”
Posted on December 9, 2015
December 9, 2015 | by Bryne Yancey
It seems, perhaps, less than prudent to name a song one of the best of 2015 when the album it’s on isn’t even out yet.
For all we know, “Shock Me,” as great as it is, could be the 10th best song on Purple. But without the context of the entire album, it still feels like such a perfect distillation of Baroness’ rebirth. A horrific bus accident in Bath, England in April 2012 left nine people injured, including frontman John Baizley with a broken arm and leg and drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni with broken vertebrae. It sounds like the type of accident that leaves permanent physical and psychological scars, and certainly, one that would crush the resolve of weaker bands. Baroness just aren’t that band, though. Blickle and Maggioni did leave the group after the accident, and really, who could blame them? But Baizley, at this point Baroness’ sole original member, and guitarist Peter Adams, appear to be stronger than the average musician. A brief message in December 2012 from Baizley made that abundantly clear.
“Simply put: it’s time to get back to it.”
Trying to quantify what makes Baroness such a special band among a crowded sea is difficult. For one thing, they’re fearless. The length and reflectiveness of 2012’s Yellow & Green took a lot of fans off guard. The overt aggression and guttural yells of Red Album were essentially nowhere to be found, nor was the galloping, progressive Mastodon-ness of Blue Record really a factor. But what the band likely saw as growth through experimentation, some fans saw as Baroness going soft. Going soft is a death knell for a metal band. Metallica chopping off their hair and playing bar blues-rock riffs in E♭was their “going soft.” Jesus, some people even got mad when Slayer released an album of punk covers, Undisputed Attitude (though to be fair, the way they changed the lyrics of “Guilty of Being White” was pretty offensive). More than any other subgenre of rock, metal bands have to constantly deal with this sort of fan entitlement. Baroness have a pretty well-rounded fanbase, but there had to have been some people saying “fuck you” to their computer screens when they heard pianos and acoustic guitars all over Yellow & Green. But, listening back to it three years later, the overarching mellowness of it doesn’t hold back the band; if anything, it gives them more room to be creative. There are still plenty of songs on it that rock super hard, anyway, just in new and exciting ways. I go back to “March To The Sea” a lot; the way its plodding verses complement its huge, swirling chorus is really satisfying. It communicates proficiency without sacrifcing feeling.
That’s another thing that makes Baroness so great: their music, even at its heaviest and most intense, is so imbued with feeling, texture and warmth. So much heavy metal, especially more technically proficient stuff, has such an inherent coldness to it. You listen to it, and your brain recognizes that what you’re hearing is very technically impressive, but it doesn’t move you in any way. There’s an urgency in the best Baroness songs that feels authentic and earned. Purple, out Dec. 18 via the band’s own Abraxan Hymns, doesn’t seem short on that so far. “Shock Me,” the second song previewed from it, is a revelation. The new rhythm section comprised of bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson are extremely talented; Thomson’s fills in particular are full of exuberance and creativity. Those opening synths are deep—they sound like what I imagine the word or color purple would sound like, if it were music—and Baizley’s vocals, clean, passionate, somewhat buried in the mix, meld perfectly with the rest of what’s happening in the verses. There’s a subtle piano in the chorus that adds even more texture. Thomson’s drumming in the breakdown will stop you in your tracks. I hear something new and wonderful every time I listen to it. And if you don’t have the urge to yell “SHOCK ME!!!!!!” to yourself in your room, you might want to check your pulse.