The Great White North's BISON B.C. had some big shoes to fill following up the beastly juggernaut that is "Quiet Earth", one that afforded them the right to claim status as Canada's answer to – depending on who you ask — MASTODON or HIGH ON FIRE. The good news is that "Dark Ages" slips comfortably into those loafers with only a little extra room in the toe.
As you drift right along with the laid back opening minutes of "Stressed Elephant" — could there be a better title for a BISON B.C. song? — and wonder where "Dark Ages" may be taking you, those serene thoughts are pounded out of existence as the burly animalistic riffing begins and redefines popular conceptions of "heavy." "Dark Ages" is one big, beefy carnivore with the kind of growling bass lines and obese riff tones that remind of everyone from the above mentioned acts to LAIR OF THE MINOTAUR for the thrash/trad-metal flourishes to COC and KYUSS; in fact, there is a gnarly riff during one section of "Fear Cave" lifted right off the pages of the Gospel according to Keenan/Weatherman.
It is during those first three tracks — "Stressed Elephant", "Fear Cave", and "Melody, This is for You" (eight, seven, and eight minutes, respectively) — that darkness reigns and the serpentine (well, almost) paths travelled by BISON B.C. are revealed. Though not markedly different from "Quiet Earth" from the standpoint of caveman stomp, steps are taken in a more dynamic direction, fortunately not in a dense or overly complex way. The wooly mammoth girth is expanded to include a wider array of riffs and a more dexterous rhythmic clobber, as well as sections of swampy acoustic guitar and the occasional use of what amounts to a death growl that sounds an awful lot like Ben "Boss" Hogg (BIRDS OF PREY, BEATEN BACK TO PURE). "Two-Day Booze" even includes gang shouts, just not in an overt hardcore sense.
The album does hit a dry spot during "Die of Devotion", a slow-builder that turns into another rammer with an inconsiderably awkward hardcore slant to it. More like a stumble than a fall, but a different vibe regardless. Some of the momentum is regained on "Take the Next Exit", which sort of reminds of a thrashier COLISEUM. The seven-minute "Wendigo Pt. 3 (Let Him Burn)" regains the epic Bigfoot weightiness of the first three tracks with sprinkles of piano and acoustic guitar in what turns out to be a grand sendoff that leaves one anticipating the next album.
In a sign of what may end up an album with long-term appeal, "Dark Ages" really seems to "click" the third time through and gets even better with subsequent plays. That doesn't mean that the first two spins serve as some kind of futile esoteric endurance test, only that the effort that went into the arrangements doesn't pay off immediately. Whether that translates to an album that will be considered superior to "Quiet Earth" has yet to be seen. Whatever the case, "Dark Ages" is another strong outing from what is turning out to be a truly special band. More importantly for those in a constant pursuit of heaviness, "Dark Ages" is not the sound of the earth moving off its axis; it is the sound of BISON B.C. shoving it off with contemptuous rage.