Here's a little secret: Almost everybody loves heavy metal music, whether they admit it or not. From the first power chords that came through the amplifiers of the Kinks and the Who in the mid-'60s, to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin's official introduction at the end of the decade, there's been a hushed but still audible collective sigh from rock fans. Finally, rock music that just rocks for the sake of rocking. This is why Smashing Pumpkins sold more records than Nirvana in the '90s and why the White Stripes did the same with the Strokes in the '00s. But being critically maligned most of the time, metal bands often stand out by cloaking their innate urge to just rock with irony, or in the case of both Royal Thunder and Baroness, being influenced by diversified musical influences like psychedelia or even textural shoegaze and post-punk.
Royal Thunder, a primordial power trio from Atlanta, combined stripped-to-the-bone Sabbath guitar riffs with the gritty wail of bassist/singer Mlny Parsonz. Also, wrapping Blue Cheer's whoosh and wail into short and concise songs didn't hurt. Most of these songs were downright catchy, with tried and true hooks replacing some of metal's more excessive trappings, like drum and guitar solos. Parsonz' upper-register bass playing almost functioned as a second guitar at times, freeing Josh Weaver to explore the outer edges of psychedelic mania.
Baroness, touring behind their latest album, Yellow & Green, were both stunning and inventive. If they didn't have long beards and long hair, the only prominent musical quality to distinguish them from not being metal was their Alice in Chains-style vocal harmonizing. Elsewhere, Baroness was stylistically all over the map. First and foremost, they showed that besides some guitar duets, in retrospect there wasn't much difference between the Cure's Disintegration and Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, a revelation if there ever was one. Baroness' music was also informed by pummeling, tribal drumming, Southern rock and ambient shoegaze guitar work. Inflections of soul even reared their head in the form of rootsy bass lines and call-and-response singing by guitarists John Baizley and Peter Adams. They also had great, focused songs, one after another, with not a dud in the set.
Some audience members called it "hipster metal," implying betrayal of the genre by expanding its boundaries. That might be true, but Baroness certainly benefited from such open-mindedness.