Canada’s Bison B.C have carved out a comfortable niche for themselves bridging the gulf between post-metal sludge in the vein of Pelican and Neurosis and the upstart breed of US bands, including Kylesa, Red Fang and Baroness, who blend the best of heavy metal, stoner rock, hardcore, drone and sludge into a potent sonic brew. The band’s fourth album, “Lovelessness”, released on Metal Blade, once again shows the Vancouver sludgemeisters at the top of their game and aptly demonstrating how they’ve earned a reputation for putting out dark, dirty and downright venomous material of the highest order since the release of debut record “Earthbound” was released in 2007.
Over the last five years, Bison B.C. have gradually honed their in on a style that’s arguably closer to the sludge metal end of the spectrum, albeit with significant influence from a myriad of other genres. “Lovelessness” sees the band push their creativity further than ever before with increasingly epic tracks; only one of the six songs here comes in under the six minute mark and ‘Blood Music’ finally wraps up on nearly 11 minutes.
More often than not, this move to longer pieces is a welcome step in the band’s evolution, granting the four-piece more room to experiment and develop ideas more fully but very occasionally, tracks seam to run out of steam. The aforementioned ‘Blood Music’ feels a little on the flabby side, whereas ‘Last and First Things’, over two and a half minutes shorter, feels tight, punchy and vital by comparison throughout despite still clocking in at over eight minutes.
Another notable change from previous releases is that vocals are far less prominent on “Lovelessness”. Guitars, drums and bass are left to set the tone without a singing accompaniment so often that it’s all too easy to forget that it isn’t actually an instrumental record. Tracks like closer ‘Finally Asleep’ wait a full three minutes before introducing vocal lines. Still, where vocals are deployed they’re as abrasive as you’d expect, with James Farwell and Dan And’s hardcore-inspired barks only adding to an already potently visceral mix.
Where “Lovelessness” really excels though, is in the great dirty grooves that drive each and every track. There’s plenty of variety to keep things interesting – the intro to opener ‘An Old Friend’ could easily have been borrowed from Baroness’s “Yellow & Green” – but it’s the colossal riffs that really leave their mark on the listener.
‘Anxiety Puke/Lovelessness’ is a real triumph in this regard, with an absolutely crushing yet beautifully harmonised riff underpinning a song that hits like a sledgehammer despite its relatively modest pace. ‘Finally Asleep’ shows a new and intriguing side to Bison B.C., the opening three minutes amounting to a riff-laden soundscape of tortured distortion and thrumming percussion. It’s yet another sign of the band’s debt to Neurosis and Isis but there’s even a hint of raw, bleak modern black metal like Primordial in there too within the first five minutes that lends an extra edge before a rousing traditional metal solo takes the record to a close.
“Lovelessness” very much feels like a natural next step for Bison B.C., preserving their characteristic mix of sludge, heavy metal, stoner and punk but also continuing the organic progression towards a more, well, progressive sound that started on 2010’s “Dark Ages”. It’s not perfect but “Lovelessness” is a fantastic listen all the same and may even sneak a few honourable mentions when it comes to 2012’s end of year lists.