*shels – Plains of the Purple Buffalo

written by: August 11, 2011
Release Date: July 12, 2011


*shels shook up the “post-metal” scene quite a bit in 2007 with their full-length debut, Sea of the Dying Dhow. Along with other budding underground acts like The Pax Cecilia, the transcontinental group caught some attention on the Internet thanks to the asterisk in front of their name and the quality of their music. After Googling “Dhow,” most listeners found themselves entranced by *shels’ unique concoction sounds drawing as much from Russians Circles as bands like Oceansize.

The success of their debut had fans anxious for a follow-up. Plains of the Purple Buffalo was in the works for years—the name seemed to be conceived before any of the music—and four years later, it finally sees the light of day. Immediately clear is that the band wasn’t slacking all this time: Plains of the Purple Buffalo is a massive album, clocking in at 76 minutes long.

This also becomes the album’s biggest problem. Seventy-six minutes is a lot of music. Even in the world of post-rock/metal, a set of this size requires some extra craftsmanship on the performer’s part and patience on the listener’s. As is the tendency for many bands in this genre, *shels sticks to more or less the same formula in each track. Fortunately, *shels still manages to rise above their peers for the most part, thanks to some wonderful arrangements and truly sublime peaks. Vocals are used occasionally, adding some depth and character to the songs. No songs are particularly better than the others, but by the halfway point it’s time for something else. It is worth hearing the whole album, but two sittings would be in order.

The record benefits from excellent production. Each instrument has its own space and the dynamics are huge. “Journey to the Plains” will shock the listener to attention within the first 20 seconds. It opens with a quiet acoustic guitar and humming before running the listener over with a stampede sound. This only lasts briefly; having grabbed the listeners attention, *shels brings it back down and constructs an eight-minute behemoth of an opener. True to the title, this track (as well as the others) elicits an image of mighty buffalo on a westward journey.

Along with the nice acoustic passages, the band’s biggest strength might actually be their use of trumpet.

Since the collapse of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the trumpet has been a sadly underused instrument in this field. *shels plays this to their advantage on several tracks. As with “Conference of the Birds,” opener on Sea of the Dying Dhow, “Journey to the Plains” puts trumpet front-and-center for the climax. It carries the glorious outro melody on “The Spirit Horse” and is given a beautiful solo to start “Leaving the Plains,” which leads to a cinematic closure Mono fans would be proud of.

It’s good that a band can still sound fresh in a scene that’s gone terribly stale since the mid-aughts. Plains of the Purple Buffalo showcases both the strengths and weaknesses of post-metal, but with a little tweaking and a little trimming, these guys can be flat-out awesome. Unfortunately interest in this style has waned significantly of the last few years. Though *shels may be onto a genuinely good thing here, it may not be much different from Michael Scott advertising “Limitless paper in a paperless world.”

*shels – Plains of the Purple Buffalo

  1. “Journey To The Plains”
  2. “Plains Of The Purple Buffalo (Part 1)”
  3. “Plains Of The Purple Buffalo (Part 2)”
  4. “Searching For Zihuatanejo”
  5. “Vision Quest”
  6. “Atoll”
  7. “Butterflies On Luci’s Way”
  8. “Crown Of Eagle Feathers”
  9. “Bastien’s Angels”
  10. “Conqueror”
  11. “The Spirit Horse”
  12. “Waking”
  13. “Leaving The Plains”