Review Summary: This record is undoubtedly their best work and with some refining of this new direction they are taking, Bison could be a major force to be reckoned with in the future of sludge metal.
Bison have been known to put out consistently face pummeling records throughout their career. Their sound consists of a thrash, sludge, and stoner influences that does not sound too far off from High on Fire. Of course, there are many bands who have tried their hand at this sound, and unfortunately has led to an oversaturation of mediocre stoner metal bands who can't make a decent riff to save their lives. Bison is different, though. Ever since their debut LP, their riffs and song composition have had progressive tendencies as well as lengthy run times, allowing for them to experiment in their sound a bit. However, with the band not really changing this pattern up on their next two records, it seemed that a career of mediocrity would ensue for the band, rendering them another stoner outfit with albums that sounded exactly the same.
You Are Not the Ocean completely changed this notion for me. The stoner influences here seemed to be set to the wayside, in favor of a more instrumentally and sonically inclined sound that emits a sped up post-sludge vibe more than anything. The progressive tendencies that I loved so much on their previous record are now in full force on this record, making the riff composition easily the best they have ever done thus far.
The album opens with "Until the Earth is Empty", a devastatingly heavy track with a cool instrumental intro, eventually crashing into the first verse, with nasty screams and growls about ghosts, mountains, and fiery moons by vocalists Dan And and James Gnarwell. This track is one of the more simpler songs on the record as it tries to extend itself more into a sheer wall of sound for its entire 6 minute length, and I'd say it succeeds rather well. It kept me fully engaged for about its entire length with the dual vocals, rhythm switches, and cool riff changes. Still though, this track did not have me completely sold yet.
The next highlight of the record for me is the song "Drunkard". This is where we really see the prog-sludge inspirations in full force. Dan and James absolutely rip and shred their guitars through the entire track, while Shane and Eugene keep things flowing and heavy in the rhythm section. I don't think there's a boring moment on this track, with different riffs coming at the listener from all different angles and quite catchy rhythms that keep the head banging for the whole song.
The album returns to the 'wall of sound' aesthetic two tracks later with "Tantrum" as we see much more post-metal tendencies here. The band goes absolutely off in the first half, with a rather straightforward riff being played so loud even I had to turn my speakers down a bit. At this point, they pull of a pretty good transition into a pretty soft and melodic instrumental section, being backed by pretty ominous-sounding violins and flutes. This slowly builds itself until a pretty sick guitar solo ensues. At this point, the track commences into its sludgy glory once more with a different-but-equally-as-good riff from the beginning, ending this almost 8 minute long track on a pretty high note.
The closer "Water Becomes Fire" provides a decent track to cap the album off with. It begins by showing some restraint with some simple melodic playing and some creepy violins again, building up tension that makes the break into the main riff about three minutes that much more satisfying. What surprised me was their ability to not only transition from soft to excessively loud so quickly, but transition back to the soft section equally as smoothly, thereby showing off their post-metal influences once more, but this time in a fuller force.
While this is undoubtedly Bison's best work, I do have some minor complaints. I think dual vocals in metal is a pretty cool concept in theory and if executed well enough, can lead make a band that much better. However, I think the shouty vocals are completely overshadowed by the monstrous growls that are oh-so-satisfying to hear overtop the cascading riffage. In the shouty parts, I found myself anxiously waiting for the growls to come in. While the shouted vocals are definitely bad, I just think they do not pair well with growls in this instance for me. There's also some pretty obvious filler tracks that are mere call-backs to their old school sludge days ("Anti War" and "Raiigin"). While being perfectly competent sludge tracks in their own right, I think they were about out of place on this record and I think the band could've fleshed them out a bit more; however, they did to provide some relief and gestation in between the longer and more emotional tracks.
All in all, this is now my favorite Bison album and I feel completely satisfied every time I listen through it. It isn't the most creative sludge record out there, but it sure is getting closer. I really hope the band continues with this new direction and am looking forward to another sonically titanic album from them in the near future.