Between the Buried and Me

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Between the Buried and Me (2002), 5/10
The Silent Circus (2003), 5/10
Alaska (2005), 7/10
The Anatomy Of (2006), 4/10
Colors (2007), 8/10
The Great Misdirect (2009), 7/10
The Parallax II - Future Sequence (2012), 5/10
Coma Ecliptic (2015), 4/10
Automata 1 (2018), 4/10
Automata 2 (2018), 5/10

Between the Buried and Me, a black-metal outfit formed in North Carolina by vocalist Tommy Rogers, guitarist Paul Waggoner and other veterans of the metalcore scene, matured via Between the Buried and Me (2002), The Silent Circus (Victory, 2003) and Alaska (Victory, 2005), where the lineup stabilized (adding Dustie Waring on guitar, Dan Briggs on bass and Blake Richardson on drums). The latter presented a sound that was still violently metal but perturbed by unpredictable un-metal events and capable of changing metal style within the same song. All Bodies is all growling and black until the poppy chorus sung in clean vocals. Selkies - The Endless Obsession is where Waggoner's and Waring's guitar counterpoint truly blossomed, both in the black-metal section and in the soul-jazz clean-vocal section. The most lyrical clean-vocal section pops up in the middle of the eight-minute Backwards Marathon despite the fact that the first two minutes are the most ferocious of the album, and it's a surprising echo of the Doors (the rain effect of the drums) and of the Pink Floyd (the languid guitar glisssandoes). In fact its instrumental coda, Medicine Wheel, begins with the kind of guitar and keyboards interplay that was typical of latter-day Pink Floyd. The Primer opens with a circular whirling riff that borrows from Klaus Badelt 's Pirates of the Caribbean Theme (from the 2003 Disney film) and ends with a surreal acoustic guitar theme that could be from a French song of the 1960s. The manically angular and dissonant Autodidact features an instrumental midsection in which trotting piano, guitar and drums create a mood of estrangement. The quantum leap forward was significant. The short and frenzied Alaska sounds like a farewell to their origins, but the standout is still a purely metal song, the seven-minute rocket Roboturner, replete with magniloquent chorus, signaling that the mutation was not complete yet. This album also experimented with the format of seamless transition between one song and the next one.

By the time of The Anatomy Of (2006), an album of covers, they had become a leading band in the prog-metal genre.

Colors (2007) was conceived as one long seamless suite. After the almost neoclassical overture Foam Born and the growling but catchy The Decade of Statues, the panzer-grade frenzied attack of Informal Gluttony begins to hijack the sound with the paradisiac poppy refrain that pops up in the middle of it and then closes the piece. The eleven-minute Sun of Nothing boasts enough swerving guitars, devastating tempo shifts and genre-bending (mostly melodic) detours (even a piano jingle) to confuse the most attentive listener. But that's nothing compared with what comes next. The exhilarating 13-minute collage (not just song) Ants of the Sky even begins with a tropical section (and clean vocals) that morphs to sound like a cover of the first King Crimson album but then soars with a shoegazing section (ecstatic vocals against guitar noise) and enters the black-metal section with an anthemic refrain repeated by the guitar solo. Then the instrumental bridge runs into a baroque organ-driven loop a` la Yes (at triple speed, of course) and a new vocal section begins. That swirling motif returns in the form of a Slavic dance, leading to a new morbid Pink Floyd refrain on clean vocals, a lounge-jazz guitar solo and a salon-bluegrass square dance, before the guitar intones one more time the anthemic refrain. This stylistic merry-go-round segues seamlessly into the more uniform eight-minute Prequel to the Sequel that nonetheless includes a minute of waltzing musichall music before the primal shout that destroys it and implodes in another Pink Floyd-ian refrain; and this one segues into a brief bucolic instrumental, which then segues (with no respite) into the closing 14-minute juggernaut White Walls. This is one formidable slab of warped black-metal, in which the voice returns to its primal beastly form and a chain reaction of explosive rhythms keeps. Despite the brief soft intermezzo, the song is mostly prey to terrified screaming and terrifying drumming until one last acrobatic lightning-speed guitar melody that decays into one last waltzing musichall step and... into a piano solo that sounds like the finale of a Beethoven sonata. Capping the virtuoso playing of this entire album, Dan Briggs unleashes a celebrated bass solo in Viridian.

The Great Misdirect (2009) is built around four lengthy pieces. The magniloquent and granitic Obfuscation (9:15) is the more fluid and accessible, despite cosmic and sometimes excessive guitar solos. The black-metal storm of Disease Injury Madness (11:03) plunges abruptly into a tranquil trance and later has a few seconds of madness (including a horse neigh) and dead-ends with a dancehall motif launched by a 1950s-evoking bass phrase. The main difference with the previous album is that the peripheral detours have become "movements" of a suite: the song is not so homogeneous and does not flow so naturally. There are abrupt separations between sections of asong. The production seems shy to emphasize the many oddities mixed into the sound, many of them buried deep into the sound or given only a second. The clownish musichall overture of Fossil Genera - A Feed From Cloud Mountain (12:11) sounds like a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band skit, and it has little to do with the operatic growl over collective hammering of the instruments that soon comes to rule, which in turn is hardly related to the song's bucolic ending with neoclassical overtones. The closing monolith Swim to the Moon (17:54) is initially a theatrical piece in which multiple voices interact and the instruments are constantly battling and prodding each other but an Irish jig at the ten-minute mark reboots the piece which ends in an operatic chorus. The album even includes a country-rock song, hardly a highlight. The amount of grandiose gestures is still awe-inspiring but sometimes the alternative arrangements (that were so prominent in the previous album) are not enough to relieve the general sense of fatigue.

Unfortunately, the fall from grace was rapid. The EP The Parallax - Hypersleep Dialogues (Metal Blade, 2011) contains the first three parts of a new rock opera: Specular Reflection (11:21), Augment of Rebirth (10:19) and Lunar Wilderness (8:22). The Parallax II - Future Sequence (2012) contains the rest, notably Lay Your Ghosts to Rest (10:02), Extremophile Elite (9:58), Telos (9:45), Melting City (10:19), Silent Flight Parliament (15:09). These are monoliths of boredom.

Another concept album Coma Ecliptic (2015), dominated by Tommy Rogers' synth and vocal, exposed them as latter-day clones of Dream Theater, King Crimson and Yes with awful suites such as Turn on the Darkness (8:26) and Rapid Calm (7:59), awful messes such as The Ectopic Stroll and The Coma Machine awful poppy melodies such as King Redeem/Queen Serene and Turn on the Darkness, awful theatrical arias such as Node and The Coma Machine. Devout fans can maybe save Memory Palace (9:54), or at least a third of it.

Automata 1 (Sumerian, 2018) delivered more of that uninspired Dream Theater-esque prog-metal, just generally heavier, while Automata 2 (Sumerian, 2018) experimented with swing jazz in Voice of Trespass (a` la Diablo Swing Orchestra) and with a cerebral jazz-rock atmosphere a` la King Crimson in The Proverbial Bellow.

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