It’s impossible to separate Purple, the towering, triumphant album released by Baroness last year, from the near-death van accident that almost spelled the end for the group.
The Savannah, Georgia-based band were touring in Europe in 2012, when their van experienced brake failure, sending them tumbling down a steep viaduct in Bath, England. All the occupants survived, but they were left with lingering, severe injuries, forcing two of the members to call it quits and lead singer John Baizley to confront the truth that he very well should have perished in the crash.
With their future in doubt, Baroness returned to the studio and crafted Purple, an album filled with allegories to the frightening accident. It’s a recording about staring into the abyss and finding the strength to look for hope in other places.
Purple features plenty of the bone-crunching riffs that have made the psych-metal band famous, but it’s Baizley’s harrowing vocals — evincing both the anguish and joy of someone who has survived such a painful ordeal — that make the album so special.
The centerpiece of the record, “Chlorine & Wine,” has Baizley pleading, “Please don’t lay me down/Under the rocks where I found/My place in the ground,” to the backing of machine-gun drums, emphasizing the urgency of the message. It’s a scary track — there are images of opened ribcages, cables connecting to brains, and nurses administrating death-bed pills — but it ultimately ends with hope. Baizley has written eloquently time and again about how the accident would not end his band, but would instead make it stronger.
And the group has never been stronger. Purple is the finest album in a discography filled with great releases, and Baroness is set to embark on an ambitious touring schedule for 2016. That jaunt includes a date at the Regency Ballroom on June 2, the band’s first gig in the city since their van crash. It will be hard to find a more cathartic live music experience.
June 2, 2016