The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa regularly refers to a phenomenon he calls ‘resonance’ when negotiating the perils of daily existence in an accelerated, technologically mediated world. At its core, resonance is the antithesis of the growing sense of alienation the digital domain has imposed on us: a more noticeable phenomenon immediately following the online interactions that characterized so much of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resonance is deeply human, requiring a sense of reciprocity between all parties, of mutual recognition that transcends the echo chambers that social media inevitably creates. And while all this may seem like a strange way to begin a music review, it is this sense of resonance that underscores my dealings with STONE, the latest record from Grammy-nominated American art-metal outfit Baroness.

“Last Word” recalls ’90s music videos with its collage and overlay approach.

To start, some context: Baroness has existed on my radar for many years, but probably for the wrong reasons. Originally, my awareness stemmed from the awe with which I beheld frontman (and only constant member) John Dyer Baizley’s incredible illustrative art for other bands more in keeping with my usual metier, such as Kvelertak and Skeletonwitch. Fast forward some years, and to the first Baroness record I actually listened to, their fifth outing, 2019’s Gold & Grey. The visual connection to the auditory experience was something that did resonate with me, something that did inspire a mutual connection and meeting of minds, and the sludge-y psychedelia of the music, while not exactly my usual, was nevertheless a welcome listen. Sadly, it did not inspire a deeper connection than that and Baroness’ extensive back catalogue was confined to the ever-shifting quantum realm of ‘to explore later.’ That later happened just recently with the arrival of STONE, the band’s latest record.

Once again, the visuality drew me in: the self-directed music videos for “Last Word,” “Beneath the Rose,” and “Shine” seemed powerful accompaniments, actual aesthetic supplements to the listening experience rather than random visuals. Combined with the fact that this is the first record the band have produced themselves, my approval for the DIY ethic added further points in their favour. The abandonment of the ‘colour coded’ album titles of the past raised an eyebrow and prompted a summary investigation into what else may have changed – beyond production and band members, obviously…

Baroness in 2023, photo by Ebru Yildiz
Baroness in 2023, photo by Ebru Yildiz

A chronological approach seemed logical, and these were my insights: Red Album was a powerful debut paying tribute to the punk and metal roots of the founding members and a fitting reason for the band to tour with the likes of Mastodon. Blue Record may have earned Baroness a glowing reputation in metal circles, going on to be named ‘20th Greatest Album in Metal History’ by LA Weekly in 2013 but to be honest, it was here where the resonance started fraying a little: the complexity was impressive, but not passioned.

Yellow, Green and Purple only cemented this impression, leading me to question Baroness on more levels. The operatic arrangement of layers and textures was good but not surprising or original – System of a Down had done more, with less. The vocal harmonies and multiplicity of styles represented spoke of undeniable musicianship, but the aloof distance conjured images of middle-class liberal arts upbringings, rather than the straightforward, working-class honesty of Iron Maiden or Motörhead.

Even revisiting Gold & Grey couldn’t sway this feeling, unfortunately, although I was starting to understand the band’s objective a lot better: Baroness is, to their credit, not a machine churning out singles – they are hyperfocused on crafting albums. Each offering in the discography has its own character and like with any artist, the contextual and temporal influences of each of these lend very distinct identities to the final result. Gold & Grey’s progressive-influenced journey is a far cry from the gut punch, riot in the streets that was Red.

‘…And the choir invisible comes knocking’ in the high-art video for “Beneath the Rose.”

And so it was with a heavy heart, full of trepidation, that I turned to STONE in its entirety – rather than just its pre-release singles. Which is where the resonance falters, once again: I expected a more cohesive narrative on STONE, one commanding my attention, but instead found myself looking for the additional sensory cues the videos had provided on every playthrough. Even the cover art – which is jaw-droppingly good, as always – features figures purposefully avoiding eye contact, making both psychological or ontological connection difficult. There are moments (guitarist Gina Gleason’s vocal harmonies are a delicious counterpoint on “Embers” and “The Dirge,” or the ridiculously trippy synth introduction to “Shine,” for example) that really stand out, but as a whole, STONE is understated and unsure of its identity. Given the bombast and confidence of previous outings, this is unexpected – as is the simplicity of approach. But then, to cite social context once again, this is a post-COVID record: the entire world is struggling to come to terms with the global dumpster fire left in the wake of the pandemic.

In that light, it’s no surprise that STONE is a bit of an unsteady addition to the Baroness roster – and also no surprise that I failed to find Rosa-esque resonance with it. To be perfectly honest, following months of lockdown (and the ever-present threat of further waves), I find myself withdrawing more and more into nostalgia and old favourites to find that elusive character, and no band as accomplished as Baroness should have to suffer for my shortsighted introversion. STONE is, like all its predecessors, a work of art, and as Kant suggests, personal taste should play no part in our valuation thereof. An objective ear would label STONE a powerful expression of creativity, and that should be the end of it.

A much more narrative-driven, relatable visual approach for “Shine,” but one that effectively delivers character and flavour.

STONE Track Listing:

1. Embers
2. Last Word
3. Beneath the Rose
4. Choir
5. The Dirge
6. Anodyne
7. Shine
8. Magnolia
9. Under the Wheel
10. Bloom

Run Time: 46:09
Release Date: September 15, 2023
Record Label: Abraxan Hymns


This is Dayv. He writes stuff and makes being an aging goth cool again. Actually, nobody can do the latter, so let's just stick to him writing stuff. Predominantly about black metal, tattoos and other essential cultural necessities. He also makes pretty pictures, but that's just to pay the bills.