The sudden surge of success that progressive metal has enjoyed in the past decade is quite an intriguing subject indeed. Kickstarting the “trend” so to speak in 2004, Mastodon released what was to be a watershed moment in modern progressive metal with the almost universally lauded Leviathan. Despite their deluge of riffs, unconventional structures, lack of an apparent lead singer and subtle flirtations with atmospherics, Mastodon produced an album that revamped prog metal for the new millennium, and above all else made it cool again. From there, some of the most truly underground bands in the world found success the likes of which seemed impossible only a few years before, with Opeth (Ghost Reveries), Dream Theater (Systematic Chaos) and Porcupine Tree (The Incident) all achieving lofty heights but retaining some serious heavy metal credibility in the process. But the greatest benefit of progressive metal’s resurgence in popularity is, arguably, that it opened the door for so many bands who wouldn’t have stood a chance even as nu-metal died its inevitable death.
Between The Buried And Me were just one of these bands, a band that took progressive metal to a different stratosphere altogether. Rather than focus on 10 minute epics with recurring themes and a massive climax, BTBAM’s unique selling point was that they did indeed write 10 minute epics (and often beyond)…they just barely made any sense. Starting life with a hefty dosage of death metal thrown into the mix, the more extreme tendencies diluted gradually over time, culminating with the release of 2007’s Colors, an album that blended their bizarre combination of technical metal, jazz, and nearly anything else they could feasibly throw into the pot in the most concise way possible for a band like theirs. Since then, BTBAM have kept their profile in the metal community while simultaneously expanding their perplexing, equal parts Mr. Bungle and equal parts Decapitated sound into new territories in true progressive style. But what’s interesting about BTBAM in 2012, as they prepare to release The Parallax II: Future Sequence, is that they’ve been pushing progressive boundaries and eschewing direct genre classification for so long now that their erratic, eccentric and enigmatic style is almost predictable, in that we know entering into any BTBAM release that we’ll a) be struggling to keep up, b) have our personal musical tastes challenged as they switch seamlessly from polka to tech metal and c) probably have to go and make a cuppa and have a lie down afterwards.
Thankfully, The Parallax II: Future Sequence proves that this is far from a bad thing. There is comfort in knowing our favourite progressive bands, however far away from metal they drift, will always at least make music far more interesting that the cookie-cutter metal of today. In that regard, Future Sequence is not as directly connected to last year’s The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues EP as you may expect – if anything, Future Sequence turns out to be Between The Buried And Me’s take on a musical, beginning with the subdued overture of ‘Goodbye To Everything’ and segueing beautifully into bona fide opening number ‘Astral Body’, with an intro designed for the more dexterously fingered musicians of the bands fanbase that subsequently dives into a happier but no less distorted flurry of notes. It takes all of two and a half minutes for their signature madness to rear its head however, and from herein the demented world that BTBAM call their own becomes yours for the better part of an hour and a half, with the intro to ‘Lay Your Ghosts To Rest’ toeing the “djent” line before falling into an almost obnoxious landscape of atmospherics combined with the most brutal riffage. Less than two minutes later and you’ll swear you’ve just walked into a heavy metal circus. That’s not a metaphor: that’s genuinely the direction the song takes just over a minute and a half into its mammoth ten minute duration.
Elsewhere, the 3/4 80’s synth intro to ‘Extremophile Elite’ is a moment of deranged delight in a song that owes a sizeable debt to early Dream Theater, before the stunning ‘The Black Box’ (preceded by the mid-musical/album intermission of sorts ‘Parallax’) acts as a harbinger to the utterly flooring ‘Telos’, a composition of truly staggering songwriting skill that fuses some of the best riffs Metallica never wrote with mind-bending Cynic-esque flashes of technical death metal, and an awe-inspiring mid-section that wouldn’t look at all out of place on a King Crimson record (actually echoing ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’). Typically, this blends directly into the vaudeville-on-cocaine intro to ‘Bloom’, which promptly transforms into 12-bar blues (but not before another trip to circus), making this easily the most complicated and schizophrenic piece of the record.
For a band like Between The Buried And Me, it’s this unwillingness to stick to one style for longer than two minutes that will always prevent them from reaching the casual fans. Even for prog enthusiasts, the at first glance directionless nature of the likes of ‘Melting City’, which is as much Opeth as it is Queen, can easily be seen as the overblown, self-indulgent meanderings of a group of musical geeks. But truth be told, that’s exactly what this band are. The fifteen minute musical extravaganza of the album’s proper finale, the Pink Floyd-via-Queensrÿche ‘Silent Flight Parliament’, might be too involved and unbalanced to incite a casual metal fan over to the party, and there will always be detractors who write this off as music for the egotistical on aesthetic alone. But scratch below the surface, and what you find is that The Parallax II is nothing more than the twisted creation of five musicians who still have the teenager who first fell completely in love with their favourite band inside them, the bastard lovechild of death metal, virtually every era of progressive music, and anything else they could find to throw into the ever so slightly convoluted pot. The results are not always gratifying, but they’re always fascinating, to see just how many ideas this band can throw together without seeming clunky or rushed.
BTBAM are a nerd’s band through and through, and this album only proves that they have no problem with that. Whatever your view on prog, you’ll find it difficult to not be drawn in by the absurdity of it all, and you’ll find yourself either speechless or completely exhausted long after ‘Goodbye To Everything Reprise’ rings out in your ears. But for the hardened prog fan who demands that their music fall above the lowest common denominator, The Parallax II: Future Sequence is the definition of the gift that keeps on giving.
The Parallax II: Future Sequence is released 8th October via Metal Blade Records
1. Goodbye To Everything
2. Astral Body
3. Lay Your Bones To Rest
5. Extremophile Elite
7. The Black Box
10. Melting City
11. Silent Flight Parliament
12. Goodbye To Everything Reprise
Between The Buried And Me are:
Tommy Giles Rogers – Lead vocals
Paul Wagonner – Guitars
Dustie Waring – Guitars
Dan Briggs – Bass
Blake Richardson – Drums