I do a lot of metal reviews here (and some shoegaze), so I’m excited to bring you something a little different today. Lord Buffalo is a band from Austin, Texas whose sound could be best described as either dark folk or psychedelic Americana. The band’s promo materials describe them as “often the loudest band on folk night and the softest on a metal bill”, which honestly I’m jealous I didn’t come up with that apt description. Their latest album Tohu Wa Bohu evokes dusty roads, ghost towns, and barren plains of the Midwest.
The album title is a Biblical Hebrew term from the book of Genesis. It refers to the state of Earth right before the creation of light. The album builds on this, playing with themes of darkness, tension, and desperation. The sinister yet catchy nature of the title track “Tohu Wa Bohu” is comparable to a band like Zeal & Ardor. Of course Lord Buffalo doesn’t have the black metal elements that Zeal & Ardor does, but the songs are equally as haunting. The album is stylistically similar to other dark/gothic folk artists like Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle. The two aspects that set it apart though are the Americana themes and the heavy use of violin.
The violin (played by Patrick Patterson) adds a really cool dimension. In “Raziel”, it provides a chilling ambience, whereas in the latter half of “Wild Hunt” it does the violin equivalent of dive-bombs to create swells in the chord progression. Patterson isn’t afraid to go all out on his instrument either, which results in some of the darkest moments on the album. An example of this is “Kenosis”. Not only is this the most somber track, but it’s also the standout amongst all of these great songs. The violin takes the backseat for a while, but slowly makes its way in as the song builds. Everything comes to the peak that is the final bridge, where the band goes half-time. The violin here adds the most tension, sounding as if it’s gasping for air underneath the beautiful chorus melody.
The lyrical imagery on “Kenosis” is great too, with lines like “Waves of cicadas cryin’ / But you don’t know what they say.” Elsewhere, singer/guitarist Daniel Pruitt brings the folklore of his lyrics alive with his smooth, smokey delivery. The repeated refrain of “sing Hallelujah” in “Halle Berry” provides a stark juxtaposition to the distressed staccato instrumentation. This track is another highlight too – it almost sounds like it could’ve been on King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.
The dynamics all over this album are rich – it has a classic yet forward-thinking sound. The guitar tone straddles the line between clean and distorted, making the moments where it goes full nasty like in “Dog Head” all the more impactful. The drums and keyboard sound so organic, you’d be surprised the band isn’t making you pay extra. The piano really ups the Americana element, as if it was lifted straight from an Old West saloon.
There are really any flaws in the tracklist. The only slight hiccup is the closing track “Llano Estacado No 2”. It starts off strong, but it never really goes anywhere, and just feels like an odd track to end on. It feels like more of a transition track, but it’s still an interesting listen.
Tohu Wa Bohu is an incredible experience. While this album has its roots in folk and Americana, it’s still very dark and heavy, so this is definitely worth checking out for metalheads too.
Lord Buffalo’s new album Tohu Wa Bohu is out Friday, March 13th via Blues Funeral Recordings.
Best Tracks: Kenosis, Halle Berry, Tohu Wa Bohu, Wild Hunt
Weakest Tracks: Llano Estacado No 2
FFO: Zeal & Ardor, Chelsea Wolfe, All Them Witches
Overall Score: A-