Tatanka - Tatanka (EP) (2013)


Strange as it is to say, we as Americans have gotten used to the idea of other countries doing what we do, only better. This leaves us in the weird middle ground: we don't innovate, and we don't create. We're just kind of here. It makes sense, then, that a Canadian band based in Vancouver could take on the name of one of the last great American icons, the buffalo. Under the moniker Tatanka, the Native American term for buffalo, this four piece have carved out a niche all their own with their blend of progressive and post metal elements. The resulting music is as unique as you could imagine, a style that few could copy and none could duplicate. On their new self titled EP, they deliver four tracks of robust organic metal that grows as naturally as the plains of the American Midwest. But unlike the majestic animal for whom they are named, this band will not be going quietly into the annuls of metal history.

With the clean, pastoral opening to "Wallace," the band achieves something important: they peak your interest early and often, while refusing to go quietly into the night. At the first drop of the hammer, you are greeted with a larger than life drum sound, each kick drum rattling your speakers. While the guitars lock down the main melody, the rhythm section drives the track forward. The combination of guitarists Dan Munro and Scott Clifford does wonders for the mix, each injecting a little something extra into each passage. Munro, pulling double duty on vocals, performs admirably, his voice having an imperfection to it that makes it not only endearing but enjoyable. No pitch correction, no auto-tune to be found. His voice, melodic and soothing, sits on top of the bed of distortion and percussion. But when his pipes go silent, the instrumental takes over, with a huge contribution from bassist Tyler Out, whose smooth lines are easily detectable and isolated. It is this focus that makes "Omnipotent Failure" a highlight. Drummer Alex Rybalko is the foundation for the entire mix, his constant percussive assertions becoming fuel for the fire. That flame ignites in full just before the two minute mark, a backdraft of darting guitar work and thunderous low end. Munro and Clifford complement each other well in their lead/rhythm roles, allowing so much to happen between them. The beautiful melodic passage in the latter half is stunning in its construction and execution.

It would be hard to fully summarize what it is that "Serpico" has to offer, but it is simple enough to say the band has achieved something of note on this eight minute behemoth. The bubbling simmer of the first half is enough to keep your head moving and your ears focused. But the way the track grow with each passing second is the most impressive part. It happens so naturally that you would never need to question the writing or recording process. The flow from passage to passage, movement to movement makes all the sense in the world, without ever being predictable or stale. The guitars, tangled up within one another, shift and change like the seasons. Munro's voice soars over the top of it all, with a smooth delivery that finds him at his best. You may find yourself getting lost in the sea of sound that is the last minute, and that would be perfectly acceptable. But with the evolution comes constant change, and the closing track, "Mamihlapinatapai," is no different. The band adopts a new style with Munro softly crooning over the light tapping of drums and cymbals and a soft guitar melody. But Rybalko takes some time to shine brightest with an amazing display of stick and foot work. His high speed tapping sets the gears in motion, with an atmospheric wave of guitars cutting through, padded out by Out and his flowing bass lines. The album comes full circle in the second half of the track, moving back into that beautifully constructed progressive metal realm. These are the moments when cohesion is key, and Tatanka have that in spades.

In an ideal world, we would be able to travel far and wide on whim to see whatever band we wanted. On the private Sorrow Eternal jet, which should be purchased sometime by the year 2113, it would be a whirlwind tour to catch as many shows as possible, featuring the best bands of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. After hearing the latest output by Tatanka, I can assure you Vancouver would be one of the first stops on our journey. They have taken on the name and the image of one of the most iconic American animals, one that graced the big screen in "Dances With Wolves," and did it a great service with the result. They manage to evolve and change, without ever straying too far from center. And the beauty of the album, as a whole, is that it manages to tie itself up in a neat little package when the last note fades away. And while I can't speak for the inspirations behind the writing and recording of this piece of metal art, I can assure you that these Canadians have outdone the Americans once again.

9.5/10

Bandcamp - http://tatankamusic.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/tatankaband