King Buffalo
Dead Star

Everyone’s got a list of favorite bands – but when’s the last time you added one to your list? Just happened for me with King Buffalo’s new EP, Dead Star.

I’ve been listening to the Rochester, NY space-rock trio for a few years now, after stumbling across their debut album Orion in 2016. Among all of the other metal I had on repeat that year – Mithras, Moonsorrow, Insomnium – that album stood out for its warm, earthy sound and desert-sunset atmosphere and I wound up returning to it often. Follow-up Longing to Be the Mountain, with its more muscular and rollicking explorations, got plenty of plays in 2018 as well, shooting up to #5 on my year-end list. 

Yet until the release of Dead Star, the band was still something I’d put on occasionally as opposed to full-on binge status. That binge has now been going on for several weeks (’cause hey, we all have a lot more free time these days). Dunno why I hadn’t checked out their other releases before – 2018’s hypnotic and groovy EP Repeater, and their phenomenal 2013 demo (think Sixteen Horsepower covering Pink Floyd’s Meddle) – but now I want it ALL. And all throughout that binge, I think I’ve listened to Dead Star now, what? 15, 20 times? First streaming, and then on the pristine, bone-white vinyl that just came in the mail. 

The big draw here is the 2-part, 16-minute opening monolith, “Red Star Parts 1 and 2.” It’s not a massive departure from some of the band’s longer, more expansive songs, but it has a colder atmosphere and a darker edge than they’ve explored before. Part 1 is a slow cosmic crescendo of subdued and tribal drumming, ghostly vocals, and distorted guitar lines that unfold like an aurora borealis. Headphones are a must. And then, 10 minutes in, the thrusters fire up, the guitars kick in, and you’re blasted into deep space while waves of  gorgeous radiation trail in your wake. The band has cut this last part down into a radio edit (also included on the end of the EP), but I still prefer to go through the whole journey time after time.

The remaining tracks are diverse and satisfying. Both the relaxed and drifting “Echo of a Waning Star” and the meditative acoustic title track could have easily fit on any other King Buffalo release. They serve as lovely bookends for the other two tracks, which are also infused with that same deep-space gloom as “Red Star.” “Ecliptic” is a 3-minute instrumental which sounds like the band has been cramming John Carpenter soundtracks, while “Eta Carinae” is a more adventurous and playful jaunt. Just wait until the killer, propulsive rhythm that kicks in around halfway through, it’s addictive. And then that’s it. Reprise of “Red Star Part 2” again, and it’s over. Flip the record, play it again. 

Back to the topic of favorite bands. I gave it some thought, and decided that for any band to really make the upper echelon of my listening time, they have to do three things: 

  1. Be something I really like (shimmering Pink Floyd compositions + swaggering Sabbath groove? Hell yes).
  2. Write excellent and compelling songs and albums (there’s not a dud or skippable track in their entire discography)
  3. Surprise me, through new evolutions of their sound or new ideas.

Opeth, Enslaved, and Insomnium, to name a couple of other favorites, make the grade on all three. And now King Buffalo. Dead Star easily succeeds at the first two points, but it’s the third one that really clinched it here, by embracing the space in space rock but without losing all of the wonderfully earthy qualities that define the band’s sound. Feet on the ground, head in some far-off skull-shaped nebula.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
April 22nd, 2020

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