A few years ago it would have been easy to simply dismiss the Vancouver foursome Bison B.C. as an insincere “hipster” metal band, an act bent on merely mimicking classic metal aesthetics rather than embracing them. After all, their vocalist, guitarist, and main songwriter James Farwell comes from more of a hardcore background, having previously helmed the skatepunk band S.T.R.E.E.T.S., but upon forming his new band he decided to grow a beard and go for a much more robust metal sound, obviously deriving from Mastodon and High on Fire, two bands with enormous appeal among indie rock audiences as well as the metal crowd. So obvious did it seem back in 2007 when the band, then known simply as Bison, put out their debut album Earthbound that many people’s immediate instinct was to roll their eyes and think, not another Mastodon clone. However, little by little the band started to attract a following, first traveling the long stretches of highways in Western Canada and then further, and with each show their metal credibility grew more, their music winning over skeptics one by one.
It was when Metal Blade released their followup, Quiet Earth, that Bison B.C. asserted that they were in fact for real. Sure, their brand of metal is as blue-collar as it gets, hardly the most inventive or adventurous heavy music out there. However, while Mastodon continued to broaden their sound with expensive producers and forays into flamboyant progressive metal, Farwell, guitarist Dan And, bassist Masa Anzai, and drummer Brad Mackinnon stubbornly stuck to the same sound they started with. Thanks to their hard work refining their sound on the road, Quiet Earth was a surprisingly tight, ferocious record, never afraid to mix things up here and there with the odd epic track, but always mindful that their strength lies in the simpler side of metal. Of course, when a label gets a band whose sole desire in life is to become a hard-touring band that spends the bulk of its time on the road, you buy ‘em a van and send them out there, and after innumerable shows and some very warm critical praise south of the border, Bison B.C. all of a sudden found themselves with a legitimate following.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Sooner or later you have to put together a followup to that breakthrough album, and to their credit Bison B.C. wasted no time heading back into the studio and hammering out album number three. And to no one’s surprise, there’s no sign of exhaustion or rust whatsoever on Dark Ages. The foursome continues right where the last record left off. Well, that is, after throwing us one hell of a curveball at the beginning of the album. The brilliantly titled “Stressed Elephant” kicks off in unexpected fashion with an oddly subdued overture of vibrato guitar and horns, making it feel more like something by Fucked Up or Broken Social Scene. It carries on for nearly two minutes before the real fist bangin’ mania commences, and when it does at the 2:31 mark, it’s off to the races, muscular, crunching rhythm riffs leading the way, half Mastodonian, half crust punk, Farwell’s deeply snarled vocals almost an afterthought.
“Fear Cave” starts off sounding like a combination of Eyehategod and Kyuss, but from out of nowhere the band explodes into a speed-laced passage reminiscent of Nausea, which in turn segues into a good, solid, High on Fire-like swagger at the four-minute mark. In other words, these dudes are on. With a title as great as “Two-Day Booze”, you’d damn well better make sure that song is an awesome one, and the foursome comes through with an alcohol-fueled rager, complete with the requisite gang vocals. “Die of Devotion” is the most direct, insistent, not to mention catchiest track on an album loaded with longer compositions. The band’s latest volume in their ongoing “Wendigo” series, “Wendigo Pt 3 (Let Him Burn)” is arguably the most accomplished song on the album, acoustic guitars giving way to a nasty sludge arrangement reminiscent of Mastodon’s Remission before eventually climaxing with a cleverly melodic break of flanged melodic guitars.
With a mere seven songs over 46 minutes, Dark Ages wisely avoids overplaying its hand, the band sticking to what they do best, never hanging around too long. As the album fades out you can sense the guys chomping at the bit to head out on the road again. This time, they have a well-earned, enthusiastic fanbase to face, rather than a bunch of cynics in the crowd with their arms folded. Bison B.C. have officially arrived.