If only Black Sabbath hadn’t of got there first. Or at least that’s what the members of Buffalo must have thought. But no matter, because Australia obviously needed it’s very own equivalent, and with this band that’s exactly what they got. Originating from Sydney, New South Wales, the group originally went by the name of Head, but were eventually convinced to change it, via a selection process that was straight out of Spinal Tap, as Dave Tice, the band’s vocalist explained: “We got a map of Australia… someone got a pin, closed his eyes, shuffled the map around and stuck the pin in. It landed in the Northern Territory and the nearest name beginning with B was Buffalo.” Well, lucky for them it wasn’t closer to Bagot or Bees Creek.
Now, the band itself admitted that due to their somewhat limited musical ability, they decided to adopt a more impetuous and macho stance, deciding that volume was the key to compensating for any lack in instrumental virtuosity. Soon they garnered a reputation for being one of the loudest, ear drum shattering rock groups around, second only to Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. Fed on a constant diet of Led Zeppelin, Free, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Grand Funk Railroad plus a little Chuck Berry, Buffalo’s intentions were pretty clear from the word go.
Dead Forever was released in 1972, and was the band’s debut on the well respected Vertigo label, which was just beginning to sign up acts in Australia. According to the band, the title itself came from a séance, where the ‘spirit’ when asked is there a God, spelled out D-E-A-D F-O-R-E-V-E-R, before the glass flew off the table! All band members were present and swear that that’s what happened. So, I guess they had a natural Black Sabbath connection after all.
The first track “Leader” opens with some acoustic strumming and piano, followed by a chorus of voices before venturing off into psyche-rock territory. If Syd Barrett had of got together with Sabbath then this is probably what it may have sounded like. “Suzie Sunshine” is a more straight forward blues-rocker, in a Free/Bad Company kind of way. Guitarist John Baxter proves that he was Australia’s own answer to Tony Iommi, while Dave Tice establishes himself as an accomplished vocalist in his right. The next track, “Pay My Dues” is well played, especially the Hendrix inspired introduction, but pretty much your standard Anglo-Rock the listener has already heard a hundred times before. They cover Free’s “I’m a Mover”, and it’s rather good I must say. Instead of slavishly imitating the original, they’ve decided to slow it down, and bleed it out a bit. But there are moments where they speed down the race track, and truly take off, thanks mainly to Baxter, whose extended solo at the end is as tight as it is inventive, before building up to an exhilarating climax.
“Ballad of Irving Fink” has some fine vocals and a distinctive riff any hard rock band of the time would have wished that they had thought of. I assume that “Bean Stew” isn’t exactly an ode to vegetarianism. The song itself is probably about the closest the band came to in terms of writing something which might have had some hope of getting played on the radio. Actually it’s nothing all that special; however Baxter’s guitar playing at the latter end of the tune saves it from falling under. “Forest Rain” is one of those slow, reflective numbers every band were compelled to compose in the early ‘70’s, and a precursor to what would unfortunately become known later as the power ballad. Not that this lot were responsible for such an existential affliction on mankind, but it all had to start somewhere didn’t it? But the good news here is that unlike all that Bonnie Tyler bullshit which came afterwards, this track has some impressive and creative vocals and guitar, especially at the latter end.
The title track is a full blown hard-rock workout in classic Deep Purple and Black Sabbath style. Tice manages to rattle the chandeliers with his high-pitched vocals, while Baxter blows out the windows, confirming that he was an even match for Tony Iommi any day of the week or month (the band even toured in support of Black Sabbath at one point, although neither band ever met).
The Aztec Music edition, which is course the only version worth owning, has several bonus tracks, none of which add much if anything to the original album, with the exception of the band’s semi-psychedelic boogie interpretation of Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go”.
Being on the Vertigo label obviously had its advantages, as the record was pressed in Europe, and sold in modest amounts. Copies of which can fetch a pretty high price on the collectors market. All Sabbath comparisons aside, Buffalo were clearly more than the sum of their influences. Which reminds me, why do modern groups today avoid long guitar solos? Why is improvisation such a forgotten concept in today’s rock groups? Perhaps an album like Dead Forever goes some way to answering that question.
And by the way, the album cover is quite haunting, and considering the story behind the title, it’s enough to send shivers down the spine. Or at least mine.