Last year was poised to be a banner one for Baroness. With its double-album, Yellow & Green, the band imported prog-metal touchstones—lengthy instrumental breaks, ambient squalls of harmonic feedback, minor-key acoustic bits that fade in and out of focus—into a pop framework, creating its most accessible release yet. Press was universally positive: Pitchfork gave the album a coveted Best New Music tag, and Spin declared it Metal Record of the Year. The confidence with which singer-guitarist John Baizley spliced anthemic, classic-rock melodies onto woolly, propulsive rawk grooves was bound to propel Baroness, from Savannah, Ga., to a stratosphere far higher than the underground metal ghetto guaranteed to troll the band for its efforts at crossing over.
Then, in an instant, it all went to shit.
On Aug. 15, 2012, the band's bus careened off a viaduct near Bath, England, injuring nine passengers. No fatalities occurred, but the experience left the group deeply rattled. In March, Baroness announced that bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle had left the band. While details of the split have been kept private, a public statement from Baizley—who suffered a broken arm and leg in the wreck—alluded to the strain from the accident being a significant factor in the two members' departure. Regarding the future of Baroness, Baizley wrote, "We have only begun to accomplish what we set out to do through this band. There is so much more to say, and though we do need to heal up a bit, we will not allow any of those things to be left unsaid."
With hopes of getting back on the road, Baizley and guitarist Pete Adams replaced the rhythm section with bassist Nick Jost and Trans Am drummer Sebastian Thomson. Eager to regain the upward trajectory Baroness enjoyed before the crash, Baizley says the lineup change has been a significant hurdle.
"When you alter 50 percent of your band, things do change," he says. "I'm happy to say after a month of shows on the road, we're playing better than we ever have in our existence."
Despite having gone to hell and back in the most "metal" way imaginable, Baroness' advanced sense of melody and songcraft will still cause some to question its authenticity. But that's an argument best left to your friend with the neck tats and the kitten named after his favorite Dimmu Borgir record. Baizley considers the band's unique take on a stratified genre a unique opportunity to convene with new listeners.
"At a heavy festival, we're one of the more melodic, lighthearted bands," he says. "If it's an indie festival, we're one of the more metal bands. We're not playing for other bands. We're playing for the audience." But after all the band has been through, fans of heavy, heartfelt rock should just be grateful that Baroness is playing at all.
Tickets and official site: musicfestnw.com
SEE IT: Baroness plays Hawthorne Theatre at 10 pm Thursday, Sept. 5.