Company: At A Loss Recordings Release: 2007 Genre: Sludge Reviewer: Etiam
A reference point, but doesn't offer exceptional listening
Considered in retrospect, nearly two and a half years after its release, the Baroness/Unpersons split 'A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk' is an ironic study in contrast. Though the At A Loss Recordings press material draws similarities between the two artists--and reasonably so, considering their Savannah origins, underground status, and loose affiliations with sludge metal--Baroness and Unpersons have taken drastically different paths since this split's release.
On the one hand, Baroness. Before this release, they had recorded a few small-time demos and EPs that received relatively little attention from labels or the national audience. Since this split: a smashing debut LP released the same year, a swathe of high-profile metal albums featuring John Baizley's (vocals, guitars) artwork, national touring, and a meteoric rise to the class of the Georgian scene. Perhaps one reason Baroness' 'Red Album' was so successful is embodied on this release. In the four years between the band's forming and their first full-length, they had plenty of time to perfect their aura while the actual songwriting matured more slowly. By the time the 'Red Album' rolled out, the catchy melodies had finally begun to flow, and with the experience of four demo/EP/splits under their belt, Baroness' mastery of the Georgian metal vibe was complete. On this split, the confidence the exhibited on the 'Red Album' is very much present (and necessary to drive the largely instrumental, twelve-minute 'Cavite'), but that isn't always a benefit. A greater sense of economy and some liberal clipping would have invested Baroness' two songs here with much more momentum and pizazz. As is, 'Cavite' meanders like a early-meets-latter-day Mastodon Frankenstein: full of rocking riff ideas, American-style harmony, and metal gusto that occasionally stumble over dynamic arrangements and more subdued passages, with too little of Baroness' unique, somewhat gentler melodic voice shining through. 'Teiresias' is a more vivacious, featuring some zesty lead passages that almost invoke the wilful Mike Scalzi (Slough Feg). But again, Baroness seem set more in imitation than innovation. Baizley's vocal lines are barely varied, the lead passages intertwine hesitantly, and the unexpected poignancy of later material (e.g. the instrumental midsection of 'Wanderlust') is largely missing. Instead, we see the rough and tumble side of the band, which will no doubt delight fans of Mastodon's 'Hearts Alive' EP, Rwake, Kylesa, and so forth. For the rest of us, what Baroness became is much more satisfying.
On the other hand we have Unpersons, who in the light of 2009 unjustly get the shaft, taking up the literal and figurative B-side of this split and completing its dichotomy. By this release, Unpersons had already been together for a decade, released two LPs, and been signed to At A Loss Recordings. Since this split: pretty much nothing. From a purely empirical and traditional standpoint, Unpersons is a less appealing band than Baroness--the former's riffs are fractured, sometimes dissonant, the vocals are layers of wails and choked moans, and the songs spasm from one riff to the next like a Locust song in cut time. But the band's experience does them well, helping to invest their scattered compositions with some underlying sense of purpose that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. They do realize when enough is enough, as well, and save the wilder guitar moments for when Sanders isn't convulsing into the microphone. Then, they groove in the slippery, hardcore punk way that one would expect from Converge offshoots (the rocking Doomriders especially). With riffs like these, Unpersons were chiseling out the Savannah sound years before Baroness formed. Unfortunately, Sanders' needlessly histrionic vocals are too overbearing and distract from what would otherwise be a solid foundation. Also, their 16-minute half is book-ended by 45 seconds and two full minutes of superfluous noise, which doesn't help their cause.
Ultimately, both sides of the split come out to a wash, with Baroness slightly under-performing and Unpersons slightly exceeding (admittedly low) expectations, but as a standalone release this split doesn't offer exceptional listening. However, as a point of reference for Baroness, demonstrating the growth that occurred between here and the 'Red Album', it portends great things for the band's impending sophomore release, 'Blue Record'.
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