originally written by Chris McDonald
While stoner/doom type stuff isn’t something I typically reach for often, Bison B.C.’s fun, anthemic take on the style struck a chord with me back in 2008 when the band’s debut Quiet Earth was released. The Canadian outfit’s combination of thunderously heavy riffage with gang-shouted choruses and thrashy rhythms drew obvious comparisons to High On Fire, but Bison B.C. still managed to carve out a name for themselves based on their own niche sound, an impressive feat considering it was their debut release.
Dark Ages sees Bison B.C. pursuing a somewhat darker, more serious sound in comparison to their first album. The rousing choruses and stampeding guitars are very much intact, but the songs are slightly more complex and there’s a greater emphasis on atmosphere than in most of the group’s preceding material. While much of the riffing on Dark Ages could be considered a continuation of the first record stylistically, the gloomier overall tone of this album casts the songs in a different kind of light than Quiet Earth. The hoarse vocals of the debut are now supplemented with low growls and anguished yells, and the band has incorporated a broader palette of tempos and structural elements. Bison B.C. had already experimented with thrashier tempos on Quiet Earth, but tracks like “Fear Cave” and “Take The Next Exit” expand on these elements, giving the band’s sludgy attack a noticeable jolt of energy when they arrive without sounding out of place. In fact, the faster moments here are some of the best, although that’s not to say that these guys can’t still groove with the best of them.
The melancholy opener “Stressed Elephant” sets the stage well for the dingier, more somber vibe of Dark Ages, beginning with what sounds like a horn/guitar combo before leading into a bold march of the band’s mammoth riffing passages. Similarly, the swooning drive of the epic “Melody, This Is For You” turns the tables perfectly following the balls-out aggression of “Fear Cave,” with some seriously catchy vocals billed against a moody, almost forlorn assortment of stoner melodies. Bison B.C. really varies the pace nicely throughout Dark Ages, rarely falling into the predictable rut many bands of this ilk seem to find themselves stuck in. The third chapter in the band’s “Wendigo” saga is especially rewarding in this sense, transitioning beautifully from a tranquil acoustic scene to a pummeling sequence of sledgehammer jams before quietly coasting back out again.
Bison B.C. have achieved an impressive amount of recognition considering their relatively brief time together as a band, and Dark Ages proves that the outfit’s success with Quiet Earth was no fluke. These guys have stuck to their strengths while still producing an album distinctive from their debut, and in doing so have released an absolutely ideal follow-up to that album that existing fans and newcomers alike are bound to enjoy.