On a summer evening in his Philadelphia home, Baroness singer / guitarist John Baizley is enjoying a brief break between tours and spending time with his family.
This low-key scene is a far cry from the nightmare that the Philly-by-way-of-Savannah band experienced one year ago. On the morning of Aug. 15, 2012, shortly after releasing their third album, Yellow and Green—a double-album of intricate, psychedelic, yet hook-laden metal—the band, their driver and road crew were en route to Southampton, England, when the brakes on their bus failed. The bus hit a guardrail at 50 mph, plunging 30 feet over a viaduct, crashing through a grove of trees and into the ground below. In two very long minutes, the future of the band came perilously close to being erased.
Guitarist Pete Adams walked away with only minor injuries and was treated and released from the hospital within a day of the accident. Drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni each suffered fractured vertebrae, and Baizley broke his left arm and left leg. Physically unable to perform, and with Baizley forced to stay in an England hospital for two months, the remainder of Baroness' tour dates in 2012 were canceled.
The physical toll of the accident left Baizley in a wheelchair for about four months, unable to do routine tasks, let alone play music. He was laid up in the hospital for "what seemed like ages," he says, and seized the first opportunity to get back on stage when it arrived.
"Hell yes—it was frustrating not to be able to [play guitar]," Baizley tells CityBeat. "And it was frustrating not to be able to do the litany of other things that I wasn't able to do, some of which are still difficult for me. That's very frustrating to go from fully capable to semi-capable, especially when it's not part of the natural aging process. I still struggle with it.
"I was playing guitar within 48 hours of returning from the U.K.," he continues. "And the day I got out of a wheelchair, I played a show with some friends of mine in Converge."
As difficult and chaotic as the situation seemed in the months after the accident, Baizley posted a message of gratitude to fans last October, with a statement of determination to move forward: "In order to rehabilitate ourselves fully, we must work towards and then past the goals we had prior to the accident. I will consider our immediate recovery a success only on the day we plug back in to play another show."
That show took place on May 24, at Philadelphia's Union Transfer, with new bass player Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson. Maggioni and Blickle had, two months prior, left the band, their injuries leaving them unable to resume touring so soon. Though preparing two new members to play a catalog of music presented another obstacle and a period of adjustment, Baizley says the process of welcoming them into the band has been positive.
"I honestly don't think it could go any better than it has," Baizley says. "They're incredible musicians, great dudes, and there's a connection—there's that situation where everything just sort of clicks and works. And when that happens, you donít ask questions; you just let it work."
Now giving Yellow and Green the proper U.S. tour it never got in 2012, Baroness—who'll play The Casbah with Royal Thunder on Saturday, Aug. 24—are reintroducing themselves to audiences with two new players and songs that, while technically a year old, are still pretty fresh in a live setting. And compared with the pre-accident set list, the songs sound considerably different.
While arguably as heavy as early collections Red Album and Blue Record, the material on Yellow and Green uses that heaviness more as a vessel for melody than for riffs or aggression. A track like "Take My Bones Away" is still a loud, propulsive monster of a tune, but there's a much broader range all around, from dirge-like dream-pop on "Eula" to swirling psychedelia on "Cocainium."
It's enough to prompt the question: Are Baroness still metal? For his part, Baizley says Baroness is still very much a part of the metal community, if not a metal band in the strictest sense.
"Most of my friends are in metal bands," Baizley says. "Most of the shows I go to are metal shows. I'll always have respect and admiration for what we were and the people we were working with.
"But as we've gotten older, our interests have broadened," he continues. "Our skills as musicians, songwriters and composers have broadened. So, we've always had the mindset that our music should reflect that sort of growth."
Revived, invigorated and excited to be on stage again, Baroness are focused on keeping their momentum, no matter the complications they've faced along the way.
"It's been the core just to keep moving forward and just to see how far we can take this," Baizley says.
"It's a hell of an adventure."