[7 November 2012]
When it comes to lyrical themes, for the majority of metal bands, love and heartache have been buried deep internally in favour of less introspective topics such as religion, war, horror and tales of gore. Dealing with such an intangible emotion within a style of music initially built upon masculinity is still a precarious left hand path to tread. There has been some powerful examples of a metal albums brave enough to explore—in painful detail—love and the aftermath following love’s departure; two notable standouts being Converge’s Jane Doe and Warning’s Watching From a Distance. These two LPs in particular have lent an authentic clout of credibility to this subject matter which had/has either been shunned altogether or tarnished because of the insincerity oozing from bands straddling rock and metal who have exploited emotion for the sole purpose of selling more records. Lovelessness is the fourth release (second for Metal Blade) from the Canadian sludge collective known as Bison B.C., and on this record they bravely deal with love lost and the isolation that follows in a way that has more in common with the sincerity of Converge than the fraudsters who peddle fake emotion for financial gain.
But such lyrical depth from the quill of guitarist/vocalist James Farwell is only the proverbial icing on a poisonous sludge cake—the lyrics provide an additional layer for those who wish to dive beneath the deep-and-dirty riffs and rhythms that Bison B.C. has doled out for six years and counting. On their previous records Bison B.C. soaked up the sounds emanating from the Georgian sludge swamps (Baroness, Kylesa, Mastodon, Black Tusk) and sprayed it across the vast Canadian tundra. They appeared to be another band who could tap into the Reptilian side of the brain, but like their contemporaries they too seemed to search for ways to advance musically, albeit subtly: varied instrumentation such as horns have been used on the likes of “Stressed Elephant” from Dark Ages, and the “Wendigo” series—which stretched across two albums—contained more than an mention of prog rock’s peculiarities.
Their latest step in the evolutionary ladder, Lovelessness, has some real honesty and straightforwardness about it, which could possibly stem from Farwell’s lyrical focus but is more than likely borne from his song-writing experience (he wrote this record on his own). The slow and gnarly pace of “An Old Friend” begins Lovelessness, taking its sweet time waking from a deep slumber, content to churn with similar frequency to the style perfected by YOB. “An Old Friend” is characteristic of Bison B.C.‘s fondness for extending songs lengths, and granted the majority of what follows continues to encroach on the eight minutes plus mark, Bison B.C. avoid smothering you with the tedious repetition of doom riffs played ad nauseam. “Anxiety Puke/Lovelessness” flips the approach of the previous song: the first section, “Anxiety Puke”, skating for the gates and channelling the lawless energy of youth through its dishevelled punk attitude, all before exhausting itself and passing out on waves of sustained chords, as the second section—“Lovelessness”—ensues; sounding not unlike a queasier version of Unsane, jammed with those signature bass heavy grooves and pained screams, all of which have been commendably cut to tape by producer, Sanford Parker.
It is a clever move having Parker produce this album and his innate ability to unlock devastating tones and organic sounds, as well as his understanding that perfection comes from the humanity of the sound: the distortion, the sweat, the blood on the strings, suits Bison B.C.‘s motives for creating music. This band is all about harnessing snarling guitar tones and not about overt technicality—it’s not about what you can play but how it sounds when you play in this style of music. This impression permeates their entire discography, but no more so than on Lovelessness. With this record each song relies less on tempo changes and favours breathable space, even during its more raucous sections, and such change works brilliantly on “Last and First Things” and the colossal “Blood Music”. Both these tracks highlight the success of Bison B.C.‘s partnership with Parker: his touch maximizes the swirling feedback and rippling guitars at the beginning of “Last and First Things”, allowing the volume to gradually swell before the band release from their leash, riff after vicious riffs that bite and hold on for dear life. On the album standout, “Blood Music”, Parker documents the sound of blood-flecked spittle on the microphone and every pick scrape, as the grooves rumbles along undiluted and untamed; Bison B.C. letting loose some of the best riffs of their career, moving into an extended instrumental section before the song evaporates in a haze of feedback.
No complaints could be made if this album ended here, but Lovelessness rages on with “Clozapine Dream”; its riffs bounding to and fro in a style reminiscent of ‘90s hardcore/AmRep noise rock. Ironically, this song matches the anti-psychotic mediation its named after; its side effects including bowel infarction, seizures and hyper-salivation, and it is left to “Finally Asleep” to dole out the chemical comedown necessary—a fitting conclusion to the depiction of loneliness and isolation that is Lovelessness. Forget the decorative adjectives and the wild imagery associated with this band’s name and music—Lovelessness is metal grounded in reality, the kind that deals with real, every-day emotion. This is blood music at its best.