Primitive Origins: Buffalo’s “Volcanic Rock”

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Back in 1973, Australian rockers Buffalo dropped their second album, Volcanic Rock, which amped up the heaviness factor compared to their proggier, psychier, and hopelessly aimless debut, the previous year’s Dead Forever… (yes, awesome titles, both). Volcanic Rock‘s molten-metal album cover art and you-got-something-to-say-about-it? tracklisting (five songs, including one at 10 minutes, one at 9 minutes, and one at 7 minutes; a later CD reissue split the 10-minute one into two tracks, but, still) were the band laying down their heavy authority, and the tunes—apparently, recorded almost live in the studio, with just vocal and guitar overdubs mixed in later—backed up what the packaging promised.

Speaking of the packaging, dudes deserve a solemn nod of recognition for some gore-metal-esque leanings with the original packaging, which featured a gatefold sleeve that covers lots of weird bases: red-hot lava menstruation, naked guys holding huge limp-dick carvings, etc. Yeah, it didn’t go over too well, but the band—circa Volcanic Rock a four-piece, fully two members less than they were on their debut—soldiered on. And we’re glad they did, because this album—released on the hot Vertigo Records, which means these guys were labelmates with Black Sabbath, this album coming out around four months before Sabbath Bloody Sabbath—stands as a killer slab of heavy ’70s sounds. So let’s dive in.

Opener “Sunrise (Come My Way)” is as good of a heavy ’70s rock opening track as any of the classics, and for 1973 those are some decent proto-metal riffs. The band sounds slightly more stadium-rock than Sabbath-metal here, but it’s a heavier strain of stadium than most of the bands of the time. Killer opener.

Then there’s the mighty “Freedom,” the aforementioned nine-minute tune. Boldly placed as track two here, the song is a heavy doom trudge, the band taking their time to get anywhere with it, the first few minutes alone being extremely Sabbath-worthy. This song just steamrolls forth, and, man, is it heavy, the band earning their proto-metal dues right here. 37,000 views on YouTube for a reason.

“Till My Death” brings the good times back, as the band lays down some excellent proto-stoner riffs layered with a chorus that is very of-the-times melodic, the band taking a Zep songwriting structure but crashing and bashing it through a gritty Detroit filter. “The Prophet” then slows things down a bit, which is perfect: this band excels when going heavier and slower, and it’s also where their personality shines. Dave Tice’s vocals soar with a ton of ’70s gruff-guy grit ‘n’ melody, but they’re charming enough to make you wonder why this band didn’t get bigger than they did. A killer song, one that has enough metal heft to sound great to longhairs today, but also enough free-flowin’ ’70s vibes to make it a hit back then. Corrosion of Conformity (with Pepper Keenan) could cover this and it would fit right in any of their albums. We’re talking proto-doom, stoner, even nearing sludge here. Another stellar cut and I can’t overstate Tice’s great vocal performance here.

The album ends with the 10-minute song turned into two tunes, “Intro: Pound of Flesh” (so metal) and “Shylock.” The former is a very ’70s tune, a concise (for this album: four-and-a-half minutes) little two-step of an instrumental that features some noodly soloing nodding to the band’s prog past and a pretty heavy dip into the dosed waters of the time. It comes and goes with little impact but as far as these things go, it does the trick.

Then there’s “Shylock.”

The song ends the album on an upbeat, fast-Sabbath note, absolutely crushing it and without a doubt proto-metal, the band almost sounding like Dio-era Sabbath before that was even a thing, again, hints of Detroit coming through, Buffalo just totally racing through this one, almost falling apart at the seams but totally holding it together to deliver one of the best proto-metal anthems this column could possibly recommend. Listen, by all means necessary, and listen loud.

Buffalo’s Volcanic Rock – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No, the rock gives you all the buzz you need.
Heaviness factor: At times, up there with Sabbath. In general, heavier than Zep and definitely leaning more proto-metal than hard rock.
Obscura Triviuma: Screaming Trees covered this album’s “Freedom.” Late bassist Pete Wells would go on to play in Rose Tattoo; vocalist Dave Tice would form Tice and Evans with ex-AC/DC bassist Mark Evans.
Other albums: Several; the band had a productive run from ’72 to ’77.
Related bands: Band of Light, Rose Tattoo, The Count Bishops, and Tice and Evans, to name just a few.
Alright, fine, if you must: Just a beer should do the trick fine.