By Kyle Harcott
Dark Ages should hopefully help Bison firmly cast off the whole ‘stoner’ tag once and for all; this record’s all over the place, and comes off as a true labour of love with influences worn all over its sleeves like a kutte. Of course, the easy way out for me would be to sit here and make the ubiquitous references to our fine BC, uh, ‘flora’ and its impact on the new Bison record, but I’m just not going to take that tack. Truth is, Dark Ages is a better record than that; it’s so eclectic that it would be a shame to see it pigeonholed. If there’s anyone who still thinks Bison’s only a ‘stoner’ band, they’re in for a surprise.
The first thing you hear on lead-in “Stressed Elephant” is this funereal horn section that plays like a doom version of “Taps”, or maybe the world’s saddest New Orleans jazz-funeral band. And it’s almost a portent, a warning. From there, the song then left-turns into heavy groove territory then right-angles again into a thrash song for a while, before getting steered back into doomier waters. Or “Fear Cave” for another example – it starts out with this massive, lumbering gallop, something Scissorfight would be proud of, but then it shifts gears into Neurosis-land, chucking around these monolithic-slab-of-concrete riffs, until the 2:30 mark when the song goes all H×C on me. And then when Bison gets bored of that, they steer it back into a massive stone groove and ride that beast off into the sunset. Yes, all this in one nearly-seven-minute song. And yet, it never comes across as attention-deficit.
“Two-Day Booze” instantly brings to mind the guitar work of High On Fire, and if anything, my only complaint. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a solid track – it’s just that in this one song, Bison makes it too apparent that they studied at the same school of riffs as Pike & Co. But then, along comes “Die Of Devotion”, with those sweet guit-harmonies that recall the best of Thin Lizzy and I forget all about why I was even remotely annoyed previously. “Wendigo Pt. 3 (Let Him Burn)” is the album closer and with good reason. The latest chapter of the Wendigo epic aurally evokes images of a Viking slaveship a-sea being bashed about in a brutal Northern storm. Then, as the ship’s dashed itself on a rock and is sinking, those same Vikings decide to hit you in the head with repeated hammer blows for good measure. It’s a relentless track, and a great summation of the Bison ethos.
That’s the beauty thing about Bison, they’re a band that can take it all over the map, but it always works in their favour. The songs never get boring, nor do they seem too impulsive or hyperactive. A lot of bands attempting to pull off the same thing simply wind up sounding too eclectic to get anything of substance across. But Dark Ages, varied though it is in influence, is still a focused and precise monster, and it’s likely to be another one of those records that will wind up on many a Best-Of list come year’s end.
(Metal Blade Records)