Since 2003, Baroness has been one of the most promising acts in metal. Alongside fellow southern metalheads, Mastodon, Baroness have pioneered a progressive metal sound that has sounded much less technical than their peers in Dilinger Escape Plan or Between the Buried and Me. After two critically acclaimed albums in Red Album and Blue Record, Baroness released the 2012 Yellow and Green, an album that furthered their path into metal stardom. 2013 marked the release of Baroness’ short live EP in Studio 4 of Maida Vale for BBC. With four solid tracks in tow, the EP is a nice grab bag of some fantastic recordings from the band, even if it’s not the live recording fans have been anticipating.
Like their former tourmates Mastodon, Baroness’ progressive metal was constantly in strong equilibrium with the sludgy alt rock sound of bands like The Melvins and even early grunge like 80’s Soundgarden. There was certainly a level of speed metal influence, but rhythmic riffs were certainly a key component to Baroness’ sound. Even frontman John Baizley’s melodic bellow has ties to Buzz Osbourne’s low-tuned voice. That low-end melody has made Baroness’ sound remarkably approachable for a progressive metal outfit, and like Mastodon’s, the band’s sound has even managed to crack the radio rock charts. The guys in Baroness are clearly educated in progressive tradition, what with the varied percussion of drummer Sebastian Thomson and the intricate bass cues from Nick Jost. Baroness is a more accessible prog metal that’s just as adventurous, but won’t leave you scratching your head with its intricacies.
All four tracks on Live at Maida Vale: Studio 4 come straight from the band’s 2012 double album Yellow and Green, an album that, while not the breakout success of 2009’s Blue Record, further solidified the band’s reputation in the rise of American progressive metal in the 2000’s. The tracks include the album’s two singles, “Take My Bones Away” and “March to the Sea”, along with “Cocainium” (from Yellow) and “The Line Between” (from Green). The two singles, especially the powerful “March to the Sea”, are fantastic recordings, with enormous choruses and a great rhythm performance on both. The percussion tremors and melodic guitar solos of “March to the Sea” remain one of the band’s best works, a highlight in their discography.
“Cocainium” is a much more subdued recording: quieter, proggier and even a bit jazzier. Baroness still have erupting choruses, though not at the level of their singles. The guitar work from Peter Adams keeps up with the virtuosity of prog metal tradition, with melodic guitar chords and plenty of obscure arrangements displayed. “The Line Between” is probably the weakest track, however. While it isn’t necessarily bad, it doesn’t have any strong hooks, nor does it experiment enough in the progressive department. The rumbling rhythm department picks up the slack, but it isn’t enough to really make “The Line Between” stand out.
The songs themselves aren’t too different from their studio counterparts, but Baroness make an effort to mix things up a bit for this live EP. Songs flow together with instrumental interludes between, sounding like one big consistent concert recording instead of segmented tracklists. Sporadic vocal variations are nice, but it’s not really the live environment the band is best on. For a small BBC performance EP, Live at Maida Vale: Studio 4 is okay, but we’re still awaiting that epic live album from one of modern metal’s most powerful bands.
Baroness aren’t really in their strongest element with Live at Maida Vale: Studio 4, but the music is still as well-composed and performed as you’d expect. The track selection is exceptional, displaying mainstream appeal, but not sacrificing the guts of the band’s sound. It’s a bit more subdued and isn’t as raw as hoped (we’re still awaiting that Baroness live album), but it’s a nice little sampler that will likely convince many to invest in Baroness’ more essential recordings.