Bushwhacker’s style on their third full-length album, Fistful of Poison is best described as ‘cowboy sludge.’ The western tinges that gradually developed on previous albums are pushed completely to the forefront as a dusky atmosphere takes precedence, the drums provide booming tom-heavy support, and the guitars show off a prominent twang whether opting for gritty chugs, swirling harmonics, or cinematic acoustics. Even the vocals manage to play up a frontiersman drawl despite largely consisting of raspy snarls.
Any concerns of gimmickry or the band’s commitment to the style are immediately silenced as A Fistful of Poison reveals itself to be a full-on concept album complete with sound effects and voice acting. The spoken segments are quite prone to cheesiness and the pacing can be a little muddled at times, but there’s no denying that the ‘cowboys meet crocodile cultists’ storyline is a surprisingly immersive experience. It’s great to see some self-awareness in the presentation but the attention to detail and world-building is even more commendable.
The band has greatly tweaked their songwriting method to make the concept work. Their past albums were rife with elaborate tracks fueled by a variety of different influences, but this album has a much more honed sense of direction in comparison. An emphasis on linear buildups over thrashy beatdowns ensures more climactic payoffs while a mix of gruff and clean vocals gives greater narrative coherency while also enhancing the mystery at hand. I do find myself wishing that the individual songs were a bit more varied, but I like the unsettling gallops on “Knives and Teeth” as well as the haunting psychedelia on tracks like “The River Black” and “Bridges Burn.”
I find a lot of parallels between A Fistful of Poison and Running Wild’s Under Jolly Roger. The two albums sound nothing alike and offer very different themes, but just as that album was the first step in a glorious run of pirate metal, I hope that this release will do the same for Bushwhacker’s western aesthetic. It could very well be a well one-off theatrical exercise, but if the band keeps tapping into this style, I’m sure the results on future installments will be even more inspiring.
Overall, A Fistful of Poison sets up an incredibly unique take on western metal and sees Bushwhacker coming into their own as a cohesive unit. The album’s more flexible dynamics allow the band to express their extensive influences in ways they hadn’t before and the move to a conceptual format results in more effective songwriting. The concept isn’t for everybody and parts could afford to be trimmed, but it’s a fun, engaging listen even as you’re waiting for it to grow on you. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a cross between Mastodon and Voivod tell you ghost stories around a campfire, check this one out!
“Knives and Teeth”
“The River Black”
“Brother in Blood”