My first encounter with Bison, this – which, I must hasten to add is not the early 80’s American heavy metal band, but the troupe from British Columbia. I didn’t know that they had formerly been signed to Metal Blade records, but the accompanying blurb that came with the disc tells me that they’ve recently been joined by Shane Clark on bass (formerly lead guitarist of 3 Inches of Blood), and that the album was produced in their home town. Turns out that drummer Matt Wood was also in 3 inches of Blood, while guitars and vocalists James Gnarwell and the confusingly named Dan And have been founder members since the band’s inception in 2006.

Well, with those 3 Inches of Blood connections, you may have been expecting some kind of true metal retro kind of affair; not a bit of it. Bison play a kind of thoughtful, progressive sludge metal that’s muscular, groove laden and well considered. Anyone paying attention to the metal scene in the last few years can’t help but have been struck by the number of bands that peddle some middle of the road kind of shoe-gazing rock masquerading as sludge metal by virtue of the fact that they’ve turned up the fuzz and had a murky production. Well, “You are not the Ocean” really isn’t that. It seems that the band had been listening to a lot of instrumental rock while on their travels on this recording cycle, and that really does tell in the songs that they’ve written, with interesting twists and turns being created in the tunes that concentrate as much on musicality as they do on atmosphere.

Oddly enough, and as a minor reference, I can hear a fair bit of Helmet in the mix here (particularly with the intro to stand-out track “Tantrum”), while the vocals have a brutal, slightly disconnected sound that hints at the lyrical content and a certain coldness to the music. Of course, as with most sludge, there’s more than a little bluesy-groove to be found, though for once it doesn’t just sound like a number of Black Sabbath B-tunes being endlessly regurgitated, but being produced with a bit more thought and care. When the rage in the music builds into fever pitch, the rhythm section in particular produces a fearsome effect – again, in “Tantrum”, when the music begins to break down into a glowering lumber, it sounds absolutely terrifying. There’s often a clear ebb and flow to the songs too, as with the album as a whole. This is a platter that absolutely demands to be listened to in order, as a complete work, and not cut apart and listened to piecemeal.

The production is absolutely excellent – one of the best for this kind of music that I’ve heard in absolutely yonks, with the power and the grit of the guitars not being completely overwhelmed by the murk, but rather being able to exist alongside it. It’s an atmospheric and intriguing body of work, and it could so easily have been lost in a standard production. Luckily, knob-twirler (ooh err) Jesse Gander has a keen ear for the balance, and we’re lucky that he has. Great stuff, and I’ll certainly be making efforts to track down their back catalogue. File under: interesting, non-standard and good.

(8/10 Chris Davison)