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MYSH: King Buffalo - The Burden of Restlessness (2021)

2021 | Stoner Rock Progressive Rock Psychedelic Rock ✩✩✩✩✩ | 4.5/5


  1. Burning

  2. Hebetation

  3. Locusts

  4. Silverfish

  5. Grifter

  6. The Knocks

  7. Loam

I’m not much of a lyrics guy, so it’s pretty rare for an album to create vivid imagery for me, and yet The Burden of Restlessness is one of the few that can. I’ll talk at further length later on but the album has such a laser-focused vibe that without knowing the contents of the lyrics themselves I was able to put together the general story and themes of the album over time. The themes of complacence and low-self confidence in “Hebetation” and “Silverfish” can be derived by their downtrodden vocals and instrumentation, while the desperation and suicidal themes in "Loam" and "The Grifter are hinted at from their intense and immense sound.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, some context: part one of King Buffalo’s “Pandemic Trilogy” and KB’s 3rd album overall, The Burden of Restlessness is yet another proverbial notch in King Buffalo’s “consecutive fantastic albums” belt. It has the band expanding on the prog influence present primarily in their 2nd album Longing to Be the Mountain and their Dead Star EP, while also delving into some of the heaviest terrain the band has seen. The Burden of Restlessness and King Buffalo in general are a very unique band within the modern stoner rock scene, and have gained quite a lot of notoriety and cred because of that. Where Longing felt like the bastard child between Pink Floyd’s Animals and fellow stoner rockers and friends-of-the-band All Them Witches, Burden feels much more like a TOOL-Kyuss collaboration run through the cold, distant atmosphere of Wish You Were Here. Longing to Be the Mountain and Orion (the band's first LP) had an almost earthy feeling, partially due to the occasional acoustic instrumentation, but largely due to the vocal timbre and the open sounding production style. Burden couldn’t be more different, and feels almost manufactured in a very unique way. The album gives a glimpse at a band that refuses to stop growing, improving, and changing. Sean McVay’s riffs and solos are consistently fantastic and innovative, Dan Reynolds sticks out in a way that few bassists do, given the proper space for his playing to shine, and Scott Donaldson is a more than competent drummer, able to drive a song forward while still playing complex and rhythmically interesting parts.

I mentioned at the start how The Burden of Restlessness is able to create distinct imagery even when ignoring its lyrics. The album is exceptionally cold and mechanical feeling, and the guitar tone is sharp and crisp. When clean (or as clean as it gets on a stoner rock album) it's a blade and with distortion it’s a tangled web of barbed wire. These contrasting tones make the heavier moments on the album hit even harder, and the quieter sections even more unnerving. King Buffalo’s reverb heavy sound helps build their songs into massive climaxes and creates a distinct atmosphere, one that is thick, as though you could cut it with a knife, and they use it to great effect on Burden. The use of reverb furthers this mechanical and unnatural feeling, unlike Orion or parts of Longing to Be the Mountain, there is no foliage to absorb the sounds of this album, only cold, hard, reverberating walls.

Considering the structure of the album itself also gives insight into how King Buffalo were able to so easily demonstrate the themes and feelings associated with the album outside of the lyrics. First you’ll need the context of the actual story of the lyrics: Burden details the downward spiral of a man’s life, how he is first consumed by his own inner demons, self-doubt and suicidal thoughts, and then finally by the Earth itself. Now consider how the album starts, “Burning” is one of King Buffalo’s most aggressive songs and has an absolutely unrelenting riff. But by the end of the album on “The Knocks” and “Loam” we aren’t getting driving riffs and biting vocals, we are getting smoldering bass, with heavy, slow, highly-distorted guitar, and a pulsing, and at times pounding, drum part. The album starts with the sound of resistance and ends with the sound of an apocalypse, of the collapse of life. This feeling of destruction and collision repeats at the end of the last three tracks, almost acting as false endings, working together like constructive interference.

I’ve focused a lot on the album as a whole package, but these songs are well worth a breakdown because they are all truly fantastic. I’ve talked about “Burning” a bit, but as one of the more unique KB songs it's a great way to open the album, introduce the general characteristics of the album without letting the listener feel a sense of ‘didn’t I just hear this?’ from the subsequent songs. “Hebetation” has wonderfully reflective and emotive lyrics, and while Sean McVay won’t be winning any awards for his voice itself, doubling-down on his almost monotone style for this album works wonders for this song especially. McVay sings in a way which conveys despondency, like the protagonist has been beaten and broken such that they are no longer able to express themselves, further exaggerating the cold numbness of the album. “Locusts'' and “Silverfish” feel like the perfect anti-desert rock songs. Where Kyuss brought to mind sun-blasted deserts and heat waves, “Silverfish” and “Locusts” bring to mind cool steel and claustrophobic empty rooms.

“Grifter” conversely has a fairly warm riff, helping transition to the end of the album with the heavy riff transitions and the reinvention of songs half-way through via the introduction of a completely different riff- something King Buffalo are quite excellent at. “Grifter”, “The Knocks”, and especially “Loam” all have fantastic guitar solos as well. All three are psychedelic, meandering, and yet constantly rooted, keeping the songs forward momentum preserved, and feeling entirely resolved by their end. The three songs have moments where the riff feels unable to escape its own weight, where the bass and the rhythm guitar play over each other so perfectly that it becomes this single mass. They would all feel right at home as the climatic and rampaging final track of the album, resulting in a feeling of unending destruction, as you expect the album to conclude one song after the other. “The Knocks”s lyrics describe our protagonist hearing a beckoning “from the other side of the door”, and have them wishing for the release that comes in “Loam”, where they are consumed by the ground beneath them and the band play a final monolith of a riff sequence closing out the album with rapturous fury.


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