The older I get and the more music I listen to the more I'm coming to understand that there are albums out there that are perfect storms for me. Though most often used in a negative sense to refer to particularly awful weather conditions, in the weird little world of JPR I've used it on a handful of occasions to describe the moment I hear an album for the first time and it does more than strike a chord with me, it feels like providence that I'm hearing it at that particular moment and no other. That album, regardless of genre, becomes interwoven in that place in time for me, scoring and enriching a moment or experience that would have been lessened without its presence.
'Hope', the 2017 debut LP from Massachusetts-based As Buffalo Run Free, is one of those Perfect Storm albums. A wistful, often delicate, sometimes atomically heavy, always searching, yet never pretentious or boring instrumental excursion that permits a listener to attach whatever meaning he or she does or does not want to the music. No need to hold my hand, I'm a big boy.
But is it metal? Very much so, but by no means in the traditional sense of the term. The album's opener, 'Prelude', is a largely progressive/space rock dreamscape that heralds the first of a two-part blackened prog metal gem: Visions Parts 1&2. Part 1 is heavy but muted, with both the synth and the bass brought up parallel to the fuzzed-out rhythm guitars in the mix. Part 2 begins in a rage of blast beats and a synth/guitar dance that seems to be crying out in the wilderness before yielding and descending to grief; made complete with the sound of falling rain, a despondent, electrified arpeggio and a mournful piano, before progressively and triumphantly ascending again.
The nine and a half minute title track follows and at once I'm hit with the pop-prog sensibilities of Alan Parsons, interwoven with the drive and technical metallic prowess of Dream Theater. The ebb and flow of the track, as themes are introduced, repeated, reinterpreted and expanded upon, is not for the disengaged listener. A respectable set of headphones and some quality alone time are necessary to fully appreciate 'Hope.' And as the opening, echoing electric guitar chimes of 'Green Fairy' play while I type this, I'm loathe to do anything but sit, listen, and allow the tribal drums and blackened, wandering guitars take me wherever they want to. The journey might be at times dark, but it's one I'm all too happy to take.
In the end, I can't think of a better title for this album. Like passing clouds, the dark passages in these songs eventually make way for the light, and the final thought that each of them leaves me with is all-together encouraging and hopeful. There's good reason for that, I think. As Buffalo Run Free is Anthony Adams, and if you go to his Bandcamp page you'll see that not only can you name your own price for this beautiful 60+ minute album, you'll see that 50% of the proceeds are going to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Just as I was overcome with the generosity of Equipoise, who are supporting the Jason Becker Foundation through the sale of their music, Mr. Adams has chosen to selflessly promote and fund a cause that we can all support.
'Hope' is not, however, an album you should purchase just for charity's sake. It absolutely stands on its own as a shining example of what progressive music, in the hands of a gifted musician who is not afraid to work far outside the traditional confines of black/prog/whatever, is capable of sounding like. And as for that providential moment when I happened to hear 'Hope,' it will have to suffice that there are days that you'd much rather forget- though you know you never will. This album was recommended to me about 24 hours after one of those days, and I didn't know I needed it until I heard it.
Anywho, give this one an engaged listen and then come on back here. Did I hit anywhere near the mark? Have I once again brought shame upon Metal Abyss and pseudo-journalists everywhere? Will I ever meet the instrumental metal album that I won't like? Will the editor ever fix our dilapidated vending machine? All of these questions and more can be answered in our comments section. .