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Album Reviews

King Buffalo: ‘The Burden of Restlessness’ Album Review

The King Buffalo trio are three of the most exciting musicians in the modern Psychedelic Rock scene

Packed with endless waves of reverb, glistening guitars, furious bass lines, and frantic drums, the King Buffalo sound is ultimately balanced and controlled by frontman Sean McVay’s flat, hypnotic vocals. 

The band calls it “Heavy Psych,” and it’s a perfect description for a sound that mixes measures of Psychedelic Rock, Prog Rock, and a hint of Stoner Rock on each record—which is one of the reasons their 2020 album, Dead Star, was so remarkable.

King Buffalo isn’t a band to rest on their laurels, though, so they’ve recently embarked on a project that’s even more impressive: releasing three albums before the end of 2021. 

That’s an ambitious effort parallel to the bottomless energy of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, but these three musicians are staying true to their word: the first album of the series, The Burden of Restlessness, dropped on June 4, 2021.

The band has been tight-lipped about each album ahead of release, saying little more than the following:

  • The majority of the ideas for each song were developed at the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • Each album will be recorded in a different style and a different location, promising a different sound with each record.
  • Although the three albums aren’t meant to be listened to in order in one sitting, they’ll feature three chapters of the same story and similar themes.

How tight-lipped are they? At the time of this writing, the King Buffalo website holds this description for their next album:

??????? (Coming 2021) – “More secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more under ground secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets more secrets

King Buffalo can keep their secrets for now. In the meantime, we’re devouring each and every inch of The Burden of Restlessness. This is a mature effort from a mature band, and it once again solidifies King Buffalo’s role as the heroes of the underground scene.

The Burden of Restlessness Album Cover

About King Buffalo

King Buffalo is based in Rochester, NY, and is made up of:

  • Sean McVay – Guitar, Vocals
  • Dan Reynolds – Bass
  • Scott Donaldson – Drummer

For The Burden of Restlessness, Sean McVay also managed production, engineering, and mixing, while Bernie Matthews took care of mastering. 

The album was written and recorded by the band at the Main Street Armory in Rochester, NY.

The Burden of Restlessness Review

Tracks: 7
Length: 40:26

Track One: Burning

“Burning” kicks off with that classic King Buffalo sound, but it’s mixed with darker, heavier undertones—especially from that frantic bass. There’s a wonderful tension here that reminds me of that typical Grunge sound mixing into the King Buffalo formula. 

To that end, Sean McVay breaks from his usual chanted lyrics to deliver an intense layered approach in the chorus:

Another year lost in the wasteland
Another day drowns in dust
Another one dead in the wasteland

Track Two: Hebetation

Leave it to King Buffalo to send us to the dictionary before even starting the song. “Hebetation,” for those who don’t know, is “the act of making blunt, dull, or stupid.”

How apropos. In addition to capturing that dark, gloomy attitude of the pandemic, “Hebetation” also channels the general malaise of failure:

Nothing’s changed at 35
Still every night I dream a million different ways for me to die.

“Hebetation” features swirling, churning guitars in its deliberate march forward, which provides the track with additional distinction from previous songs in the King Buffalo catalog. This is one band, remember, that loves sonic exploration.

That said, “Hebetation” boasts some of the coolest bass lines on the album, so pay close attention to Dan Reynolds and his work!

Track Three: Locusts

“Locusts” features that classic King Buffalo lead guitar exploration, but it occasionally roars to life with a wave of intoxicating distortion. 

Stylistically, that occasional distortion ties the song back to “Burning” and numerous other Alternative Rock acts.

There’s a lot going on here, and listeners interested in compelling guitar work just might decide “Locusts” is their favorite song. 

Track Four: Silverfish

Remember reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in your high school English class? In case you missed it, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” was a short story about a woman who’s forced into quiet solitude after the birth of her baby.

“Silverfish” has some haunting vibes similar to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” especially since it focuses on a similar amount of solitude and the scurrying image of a silverfish (a small bug):

I stare at the cracks in the wall
I think I’m unraveling

A silverfish slithering away, from everything, and everyone

“Silverfish” ultimately becomes one of the heaviest songs on the album, but that’s not the way it starts. Instead, “Silverfish” starts playfully, then builds and builds and builds until the playful lines in the beginning are delivered over a mountain of unsettling fuzz.

Track Five: Grifter

By this point, the album’s formula is pretty well established: Start with an interesting guitar lick, sprinkle in a steady rhythm section, chant some vocals, then build to the chorus (which is a wall of fuzz). There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it is unusual for a King Buffalo album to have this much structure. 

Regardless, “Grifter” begins on a wave of mystery (so pay close attention to the instrumentation on this one). 

Eventually, though, “Grifter” explodes into that classic Heavy Psych, so buckle up.

Track Six: The Knocks

“The Knocks” begins by riding the drums and bass, eventually allowing a playful guitar to enter the fray and contrast the opening lines:

Every day I wake up on the floor
Another useless day like every other that’s come before

Although “The Knocks” starts lowkey, it eventually erupts into a massive sound that occasionally brings to mind Siamese Dream, a quality partially due to heaps of fuzz and partially due to the high notes ripping through the distortion tapestry.

Like “Locusts,” “The Knocks” features some of the best guitar work on the album, and here we even get a dash of competing guitars in some sections. 

Track Seven: Loam

For those of you who like finding the source of the album title, “Loam” is your song:

I’m shedding the burden of restlessness
To rise from the loam of the nothingness

As an album closer, “Loam” is strong. Featuring intricate guitar work, frenetic drums, and that delightful King Buffalo bass, this is an exciting song even when the band is warming up and cooling down. 

Final Thoughts

Score: 9/10

Standout Tracks: “Burning,” “Silverfish,” and “Loam”

Pros: “The Burden of Restlessness” is a wonderful expansion beyond the established King Buffalo comfort zone. While it’s as beautiful and elegant as, say, Orion, The Burden of Restlessness frequently features the heavier side of songs like “Red Star, Pt 2,” expanding the album’s sonic palette—often within individual songs. 

Personally, I can’t wait for the next installment in this album trilogy.

Those who grew up on bands like Nirvana and others that followed the quiet-loud-quiet template of songwriting will find this simultaneously familiar and foreign—while the template obvious, it still contains the intricacies inherent in the King Buffalo sound.

Cons: The formulaic song construction is expected from most bands, but with King Buffalo, it comes as a surprise. Stripping away pieces of their Progressive identity means there’s less room for exploration, which means we ultimately have a group of songs that go together—but fewer auditory highs and lows, as you might find on their past albums.

Learn More About King Buffalo

To learn more about King Buffalo, follow them on social media (Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter), subscribe to their YouTube channel, show them some love on Bandcamp, or visit their website.

4 comments

  1. Looking forward to their concert in November! Thorough album review Patrick!

  2. Great review, Pat! I love this album, but I will say I missed the prog-rock elements from earlier albums. Either way, I very much look forward to what else they have in store for us in 2021!

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