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Bison b.c. - "Dark Ages" (CD)

Bison b.c. - "Dark Ages" CD cover image

"Dark Ages" track listing:

1. Stressed Elephant
2. Fear Cave
3. Melody, This is for You
4. Two-Day Booze
5. Die of Devotion
6. Take the Next Exit
7. Wendigo Pt. 3 (Let Him Burn)

Reviewed by on April 10, 2010

"The press kit for 'Dark Ages' describes Bison b.c. as 'Flying V’s, analog perfection, loud & sludgy, played by hairy dudes in dirty denim jackets.' That is probably really accurate."

Black metal revivalists and thrash throwback outfits are all the rage nowadays, but there is another genre of metal that is skyrocketing in popularity – (complementarily) Neanderthal metal. Purveyed by the likes of Mastodon, Baroness, High on Fire, Priestess and their ilk, the cool thing to do is throw on a jean jacket, grab some Old Milwaukee beer, and rock out to the old school sounds of doom, stoner, prog, hardcore, and thrash all wonked together in a big lo-fi mess. The critics can’t get enough (Decibel Magazine in particular is gaga over anything resembling doom-y/stoner-y mashups), and catapult these bands to metal stardom. The latest group up for coronation is Bison b.c., who do their part taking us back to the groaning beginnings of heaviness.

The key to writing a good Neanderthal metal album is songwriting. Most folks can distort guitars, get fuzzed out feedback, and record big chords on analog equipment. But just like the Beatles rose to prominence with “Twist and Shout” and The Rolling Stones cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” hook-driven rock ‘n’ roll is the key to four sweaty, jean-covered dudes banging out the tunes. And Bison b.c. has it – kind of.

Starting off strong, album opener “Stressed Elephant” settles into a number of good grooves, alternating between thoughtful depressed Pearl Jam and chugging depressed Metallica. The back half of “Fear Cave” also has good head-boppin’ potential, as the speedy groove rolls along in the convertible with horns up. Even the aggressively named “Melody, This Is For You” has lots of hook potential and only descends into total a-tonal mush toward the end. But the speedy “Two Day Booze” never really comes together in its schizo modes, and “Die of Devotion” is just too off-kilter with incessant riffs and dissonance to make something moderately enjoyable, despite the nice breaks. And while “Take the Next Exit” is a warp speed drone fest, “Wendigom Pt. 3” is an excellent counterpoint of acoustic melody and crushing heaviness.

On the whole Bison b.c. isn’t as experimental as Baroness, isn’t as proggy as Mastodon, and isn’t as inventive as High on Fire. But they are a little of all of it and mix the elements pretty well. Guitarist/vocalists James Farwell and Dan And trade off well and use their muscular tones to their crushing benefit. Bassist Masa Anzai gets relatively few moments to shine, but you know he’s there from the lo-fi headache that his rumble leaves behind. Drummer Brad Mackinnon has also gotten much well-deserved praise from the critics. The most amazing part is Bison b.c. manages to pull off all their time shifts, mode changes, solos, breaks, and hidden bombast without showing Dream Theater style chops. Whether they have those chops or not is irrelevant, because they don’t use them if they do.

The press kit for “Dark Ages” describes Bison b.c. as “Flying V’s, analog perfection, loud & sludgy, played by hairy dudes in dirty denim jackets.” That is probably really accurate. Listening to this album, and thinking about the above description really does bring Neanderthals to mind. Instead of hairy denim clothed men, let’s move back even further – hunched cavemen covered with thick hair under protruding foreheads and above huge chins, wearing tiger skins, holding electric guitars – that seems about right. And while the Pleistocene era droned on a bit long, just like some parts of “Dark Ages,” in the end it was quite necessary, also just like “Dark Ages.”

Highs: “Stressed Elephant” is everything Bison b.c. strives for: hooks, grooves, and heaviness.

Lows: Some parts, particularly on “Take the Next Exit” and “Die of Devotion,” just start to drone.

Bottom line: Bison b.c. are next in line for doom/stoner/thrash stardom.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)