We Hunt Buffalo - Head Smashed In (LP)

We Hunt Buffalo - Head Smashed In (LP)

  • $23.99


Origin: SWEDEN
Released: 2018
Catalog number: FUZZLP030

As images go, ‘head smashed in’ is as vivid as it is succinct and violent. We Hunt Buffalo, who made their debut on Fuzzorama Records in 2015 with their second album, Living Ghosts (discussed here), return with Head Smashed In as a nine-song/43-minute collection of beefed-up modern progressive-styled heavy, bordering often on metal in songs like “Angler Must Die” with the popping snare of drummer Brandon Carter backing the dual-vocal hook from guitarist Ryan Forsythe and bassist Cliff Thiessen, or in the lumbering moments of finale “God Games.”

Those stretches, though, aren’t without contrast, and We Hunt Buffalo wind up with a sneakily dynamic style that takes on heavy rock directly in cuts like “Keep it Refreshing,” which to my New England-dwelling ears seems to have a bit of Roadsaw in its chorus, and centerpiece “Industry Woes,” which engages harsher vocals but has a classic round of starts and stops that not only shows a tightness on the part of the band instrumentally, but easily crosses genre lines in a way that sounds natural and familiar while still remaining stylistically nuanced. That nuance is in part thanks to the production, which is crisp and brings out a tension in a way that Living Ghosts seemed more open and looser on the whole, but is full in its overall affect and massive sounding especially in the guitar and bass tones.

Big choruses pay off dug-in movements, and from opener “Heavy Low” through “Angler Must Die” and “Prophecy Wins” and into the instrumental “Get in the Van,” the balance between proggy detail-making, weighted force of tone and rhythm and traditional-feeling earwormery makes Head Smashed In true to its titular sense of impact without necessarily the direct one-on-one violence that “smashed” brings to mind. In the end, there are many ways to cave in a skull.

we hunt buffalo The shouts in “Industry Woes” feel well-enough earned by that song’s theme, and they have a likewise well-placed effect on the context of the record as a whole, speaking to roots in the Mastodon-informed sphere of modern underground thrust, but for the most part, Head Smashed In works at a comfortable pace. Later, “God Games” takes on an almost post-rocking feel in its subdued verses, but even “Prophecy Wins” — the longest cut at 6:12 and the last chapter of the opening salvo — has a steady, obviously-in-control rollout that never flies too far off the handle on its way to its engaging melodic finish. “The Giant’s Causeway” finds Carter double-timing his ride cymbal in the chorus, and that adds a sense of urgency, but in that song as well there’s no danger of We Hunt Buffalo losing their way. They might be at their speediest on “Get in the Van,” but the same applies, and ultimately, the range on Head Smashed In is more about volume and melody than about tempo.

That’s not to say there’s no changing it up, as the back-to-back run of “Anxious Children” into “God Games” demonstrates, just that the impression the tracks make draws more from the trades between Forsythe and Simpson on vocals and the shifts between louder and quieter parts than playing grind on one track and doom on another. Their pacing helps draw the material together and create a flow that moves the listener from start to finish, and it’s in how they work within that sphere that We Hunt Buffalo emanate a maturity in their approach that even just three years ago they simply didn’t have. It might not come across as such on a first time through, but Head Smashed In is actually pretty classy. The performances are sharp, the mix is deep and allows for emotional resonance in the melodies that are so crucial to the memorable nature of the songs, and there is an overarching groove that results in an all-the-more coherent vibe. Very much a third album. Very much the product of a group who know what they want to do, who are steady in their approach, confident in the studio, working how they want to work and able to bring a sense of energy to their output regardless of the outward push. It’s not the kind of record a band could make their first time out.

And maybe that’s part of the idea behind the title — to mask some of that intricacy in a notion of brute force. Fair enough. Influences from the likes of Elder situate We Hunt Buffalo in a forward-thinking heavy sphere with the likes of Forming the Void, and like the lines in its cover art, which also features a smashed head or two, it’s the pinpoint details in the songs that make their third LP succeed in the manner it does. They bolster the strong choruses of cuts like “Prophecy Wins” and “The Giant’s Causeway” and “Keep it Refreshing,” while giving those who’d rightfully return for multiple listens all the more reason to keep coming back. It’s songwriting. But just like one might look at the name of the album and prejudge an expectation of what’s coming, there’s more to the proceedings in the individual pieces than their plus-sized riffs and stories about monsters. Though there’s plenty of that too for anyone who’d readily take them on. - The Obelisk