In their fifteen year existence, Raleigh, North Carolina quintet Between the Buried and Me has resisted all attempts at categorisation largely by the ever-changing nature of their music. Breakthrough record Alaska in 2005 saw them being lumped in with the ascendant metalcore scene largely by virtue of their choice of record label and haircuts, despite that critically acclaimed release being very different in content to anything post-Killswitch.
Further records such as Colors in 2007 and The Great Misdirect two years later (all Victory) saw the band flirting with death metal and grind yet the overarching theme was that of fully-fledged progressive metal, something that has now come to fruition on Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade) a bona-fide rock opera that was always in the works, yet few thought would ever be quite so glorious.
With a concept detailing a coma patient’s self-induced exploration of his past lives, facing the choice to either stay or move on to parts unknown and the strange, arcane machine which enables him to do this, none could accuse Between the Buried and Me of lacking a sense of the grandiose. However it is the music that matters and on this record the band has wandered further into the lands of bewildering, arcane prog than ever before, while thankfully still in touch with their metal safety ground. Bands such as Genesis, Queen and Pink Floyd are notable reference points here, with BTBAM seeking to emulate the sense of wonder and freedom those noted acts managed to achieve with their seminal records back in the 70s.
The guitars on Coma Ecliptic are more interested in swirling leads and deft licks than common-or-garden heads down riffing, with rhythm largely left over to the solid, yet often playful bass guitar. This is apparent from the first time the axes make an appearance; with a brief yet histrionic solo which closes the soulful, piano-led opening track ‘Node’. Of course, this is still a metal album at heart and most tracks feature basic one/two chugs during the verses, although the attention will mostly be focused on the ever-present spiralling leadwork. A prime example of this is ‘The Coma Machine’, which develops the themes of the opening track into a surreal yet wholly engaging journey of bewildering prog rhythms, fluid guitar acrobatics and soaring, mysterious keyboards. It’s one hell of an impressive start to a record and things only get better from there.
Whether it’s the Zombi style 80s synth of ‘Dim Ignition’ complete with buzzing vocal effects which pitches the listener straight into a John Carpenter action film, the absurdly fun Vaudevillian stomp of ‘The Ectopic Stroll’ which Faith No More would have killed to have included on their recent comeback album or the emotionally devastating ‘King Redeem – Queen Serene’ which flits between soulful acoustic introspection to searing melodic death metal with a few maniacal prog flourishes thrown in for good measure, it’s utterly impossible to get bored. This is a record that you could listen to over twenty times and still find surprises waiting for you at every turn.
Each member of the band has come on leaps and bounds since the early days with Paul Waggoner surely staking a claim for one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation and the man Dream Theater should be keeping a close eye on when they next suffer a crisis in the ranks. But it is mainman Tommy Rogers who deserves most of the plaudits. His soulful croon will tug at your heartstrings on ‘Rapid Calm’ during the wondrous guitar solo-used-as-verse, but will instantly switch to feral death growl without breaking sweat, and crucially without ever sounding contrived.
The record that they were always promising to make but you weren’t sure was possible, on Coma Ecliptic Between the Buried and Me have exceeded all expectations and delivered not only the album of their careers but one of the most monumental ambitious rock concept pieces this side of Operation Mindcrime (EMI).
How they will ever top this remains the only sticking point.