We Hunt Buffalo’s second album draws its sound from across the stoner metal and fuzz rock (or stoner rock and fuzz metal, the labels are pretty interchangeable in this case) board. Living Ghosts is a good record throughout, providing solid riffs and choruses without really doing anything to make themselves stand out in their genre. That may sound like faint praise, but a band that’s reliably both heavy and catchy is definitely a worthwhile listen.
The record begins with “Ragnarok”, a two-minute intro that starts quietly but full of portent. Its two-guitar riff builds up steam, getting crunchier and heavier but staying ponderous right up until the beginning of “Back to the River”. At that point, the riff shifts and the tempo increases, but the main riff of the former song returns to anchor the pre-chorus of the latter. With its huge, bellow-along refrain (“These are evil times! / We’re the ones who know much better”) and its memorable but unflashy guitar riffs, Living Ghosts starts off very strongly. Other tracks in that same vein are equally successful. “Comatose” is a tight rocker pushed by a driving bassline and drumbeat and anchored by a couple of simple variations on a catchy guitar riff. The way the chorus stops on a dime to shift to a slow, epic vocal refrain feels a bit too familiar, but doesn’t really hurt the impact of the rest of the song. Penultimate song “Looking Glass” splits the difference between quiet and heavy with a punishing main riff assisted by tripling in the bass and organ and great drum fills. The verses are low key, but the song builds to a very effective finishing jam over the back half of the song that fades out nicely.
“Looking Glass” really feels like the end of the album, but We Hunt Buffalo instead finish out with “Walk Again”, a laid-back song that puts guitarist Ryan Forsythe’s baritone vocals front and center while letting Brendan Simpson’s fuzz bass be the guiding force for the song. Of course, the track ends in a lot of noodly soloing from Forsythe as he also pushes his voice up to a howl, but the band has enough sense to let the final minute or so fade out slowly. Still, it’s not the most effective denouement after the great “Looking Glass”.
The band makes other small digressions elsewhere on the album that mostly pay off better than “Walk Again”. “Hold On” tamps down the fuzz in favor of big, open, echo-y sounds. Forsythe sings near the top of his vocal range, which helps give the song a significantly different feel than the rest of the record. There’s still a big, crunchy chorus, but the wide open space rock that dominates the song is a good temporary change. The southwestern feel of “The Barrens” is also a smart change for We Hunt Buffalo, and the band is savvy enough to stick with that different feel on this one. Even when they get loud and heavy again, the song never loses its cowboy drifter vibe. Less successful is “Prairie Oyster”, which dabbles in scream-shouted metal vocals before switching back to Forsythe for the chorus. In this case the song doesn’t really click until Forsythe comes in, with the indelible refrain, “I’m not myself / Just a puppet of the devil.”
We Hunt Buffalo have a sound on the line between traditional hard rock and modern metal lets them drift nicely between several different types of audiences. Their bio page includes a long list of medium to big names the band has opened for when those names came through the band’s hometown of Vancouver. Living Ghosts is kind of a tricky record to judge as the group pushes their own envelope just enough to hint at bigger ideas while still sticking to a central sound. But the album also leaves me appreciating the riffs and the digressions while still longing just a bit for more interesting songwriting. Maybe that will come with a bit more experience for the band.