02. Ghost Chair
03. Thank Fuck I Aint You
04. Heroes Are What
05. The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire
06. The Battle Of The Sinkhole
08. I Will make You Real
09. Military Wife
10. Not Another Name
The postcolonial dilemma: is this metal at all?
At first listen, Bovine might seem to sit in the neo-sludge metal camp ushered in by Baroness and Mastodon’s crossover success. Throw in some later-day stoner influence, mainly from the Josh Homme camp, and there you go. Certainly, once the brooding, minimal intro ‘Barium’ is over and ‘Ghost Chair’ bursts in, its sheer aggression and energy make for a most satisfying package. The vocals vary between a tuneful, soaring style and more tortured shouting. The guitars are massive and tight and the drums are slamming. There’s a great change in pace towards the end, and a final blast that is full of righteous intensity. It’s during ‘Thank Fuck I Ain’t You’ that I start thinking about Mastodon’s slow dilution of their own sound, Baroness’ drift from the poised artistry and heaviness of the Red Album and, well, of Muse. The soaring, modern Brit rock vocals, the bouncy bravado of the riff – it really isn’t too far away from the sound of Devon rockers.
‘Heroes Are What’ further underscores the modern rock sensibility with its clean opening, complete with those slightly anguished vocals that became a mainstay of the genre after Jeff Buckley’s success. The song then takes a swift turn into faster territory, but it’s more rocking than slamming. The riffing style itself is starting to grate on me a bit with its jaunty singlemindedness, a far cry from the intricacy of Mastodon in their prime, nevermind the acid-and-barbed-wire approach of the original wave of sludge acts from the NOLA area. The title track ups the ante a bit with a driving yet restrained build-up and more complex, probing melodies. Sure, it’s Leviathan Lite, but it’s a good song. ‘The Battle of the Sinkhole’ manages to make the most of a few transitions between moderate and fast passages, and has some great drumming. ‘I Will Make You Real’ is a standout, like the title track, heavy, layered and not without a certain subtlety. ‘Military Wife’ hints at some hardcore influences, along with a few glitchy effects. It has some very effective riffing too – much more convincingly heavy and interesting than the more alt/grunge fare that was all over the first half of the album, and the shifts in tempo really work this time. ‘Not Another Name’ is marred by the fact that the band’s more shouty vocals just don’t have that much repeat value.
Bovine is a band that has a lot of buzz about it at this point, and I can see their mix of sludge, stoner, grunge and modern rock influences finding favour in a lot of places. Perhaps it’s a measure of my own preference for the more trudging, misanthropic aspects of the sludge idiom and my lack of enthusiasm for the linear qualities of modern rock that make me somewhat less sensitive to this album’s charms. So it’s a classic YMMV deal: if you like the sound of the mix of styles I’ve alluded to, this is a superior example of its kind. If not, well, Eyehategod should have an album out any year now.