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Between the Buried and Me will finally be releasing their Coma Ecliptic: Live DVD/Blu-ray on April 28th via Metal Blade Records, in association with Good Fight Entertainment. The DVD/Blu-ray was filmed at The Observatory in San Diego last October, and as you’ll see in the ‘Turn On The Darkness’ clip below, the band put on one stellar performance for the lucky fans in attendance. Continue reading
Nova Collective offer quite a dream meeting of minds in the world of Prog, and have been a hugely anticipated entity since their inception reveal a couple of years ago. Helmed by Between The Buried & Me bassist Dan Briggs and Haken guitarist Richard Henshall, the instrumental project was formed out of Briggs’ admiration for Haken’s then creative apex The Mountain (InsideOut), which (long story short), culminated in the sharing of musical ideas between the two and an eventual collaboration. Continue reading
With their, at times, near insanity-inducing levels of genre merging and sheer unpredictability it is pretty apparent that the lyrical subject matter of Between The Buried And Me also fits this bill. Even a cursory glance over previous song titles such as ‘Foam Born (A) The Backtrack’ and ‘Croakies and Boatshoes’ prove that even lyrically they come with rather a large dose of head scratching. Even so, the concept that saddled both The Parallax releases (both Metal Blade) was so intricate that explaining fully would require its own essay to explain (Dan Briggs’ own advice in conversation was to check Wikipedia).
On Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade) the story is much easier to understand on the face of it, but still presents a multitude of “WTF” moments, nor is it any less grandiose. In its most basic explanation it follows a man who falls into a self-induced coma in order to explore a plethora of different realities. Seriously, it’s still easier to understand than The Parallax.
Firstly, Brigg’s explains where the story came from: “That was totally Tommy’s thing. We were a while into the album and I think he was getting nervous, he was out in California and we were locked in, and we pretty much had the album laid out. I think Tommy felt all of a sudden “I had a load of catching up to do”. I don’t know how many ideas he had before he went with the coma idea.”
“I know he was influenced by The Trumann Show and The Twilight Zone, like you’re in a reality and it’s not quite what it seems, it’s fucked up and it’s not what you thought. Thus lies an interesting groundwork for, I guess inherently a BTBAM album which is going to be all over the place.”
With this overriding story thread through the album, rather than simply an ideal or a notion, the band have raised the idea before of it being more than a concept album but instead a “Rock Opera”. The thought behind this is one that Briggs seems keen to back up, as he explains. “All a rock opera is, is telling a story through a song, and that’s what we are doing. Not too different from a concept album but it’s being in the mindset that we wanted to do something more theatrical and take it to the next level, and for us that was just calling it that, and that was propelling us to a different headspace.”
Certainly it’s a terminology which pricks up interest more so than the more tried and tested concept album, and with it brings a greater sense of gravitas. This way of looking at their work, it turns out, is also a product of some important members coming further out of their shell in terms of story writing, even with elements of stories and tales in their work before; “Colors (Victory) is a conceptual album but not lyrically, musically it works as one unit but lyrically was not locked in. Tommy was not confident enough that he could do it, even though there are songs like ‘Sun Of Nothing’ that was such an intense story that surely he could have locked in and carried out. So he was hinting at it then and on the The Great Misdirect (Victory), and he picked at little elements of those in The Parallax, but he is at a cool place now when it comes to writing stories and being vivid.”
What is made even clearer from Briggs’ explanations about the songwriting processes is just how long the whole system has proven. “Some of these songs we have already been sitting on for a year, and it’s so nice that people are finally hearing it, to finally get feedback.”
With the framework begun such a long while ago, it makes it all the more bewildering the number of other musical projects that Briggs has under his belt and currently in work. As passionate about each one, with a hugely variant music taste, Briggs relishes the chance to touch base, firstly with the most high-profile of all, his dissonant, Mahavishnu Orchestra inspired Trioscapes, and the adrenaline shot it gave him: “We have done a good bit, we’ve done handfuls of touring in America and trying to get to Europe; it’s just lining up with the right people to make it happen. That group’s a lot of fun. When that started in 2011 it really gave me a jolt, and I feel like I’ve been riding a wave ever since. I don’t know what it is but it just got me so pumped and really excited and it hasn’t stopped.”
Also included are the more melodic Orbs with a new album, which “We have been trying to shop it and work out how to get it released”, a project he describes as the closest yet to a solo effort, which is “inspired by a lot of music from the 30’s and 40’s, jazz standards, but it’s pretty fucked up, it’s different”, and another that has been mostly kept under wraps until now which sees a new working relationship with Richard Henshall of UK tour buddies Haken.
“We haven’t really announced the band yet but I’ve been posting bits and we finished the album in April, trying to find a good time to record it, which will probably be towards the end of the year or start of next year. That music is really fun, really exciting, really different, and I love the band Haken, and Richard has been super cool to work with.”
How Briggs finds the time and the energy to work on so many different acts and types of music is simply astounding, and you get the impression this is just the tip of the iceberg for him. What can’t be overlooked though is how much Briggs (and the rest of BTBAM for that matter) are fans of exciting, experimental music that pushes boundaries. “For me, all the music I do is equally as important. It’s never a question of do I ever want to book studio time in these two weeks I have free before I go out; it’s like ‘Yeah, obviously, am so excited to do that’.”
More than enough proof that the future of the quirky, difficult to grasp music is in very sturdy hands.
Some of the most special acts in both the worlds of Prog and Metal are the ones that give a big middle finger to the idea of convention and instead choose to create something fresh and new. Along with these are the ones who reinvent themselves, to adapt and continuously move forward and challenge themselves, perhaps whilst confusing the fuck out of people and making them take notice. All of these can be attributed to musical alchemists Between The Buried And Me.
Signs of the band’s progressive streak has always been a part of the band’s sound, even if in the early days it was much less prevalent as bassist Dan Briggs comments from his time joining in 2004. “At that time of Alaska (Victory) we were so rooted in the hardcore scene, it took a while for the natural progression to kind of happen, and that’s how always how we have written music, we have always written it to happen naturally, nothing is forced and that’s just what’s most important.” Even so, the evolutionary steps they made from those days through to fan favourite Colors (both Victory) in 2007 through to the sheer mind-boggle of The Parallax II: Future Sequence is staggering.
Heading even further down the rabbit hole, new album Coma Ecliptic (both Metal Blade) sees a greater focus on the band’s melodic aspects, as a result there is a decrease in their death metal elements and growls (but still prevalent) and greater influx of their Prog Rock influences and of their quirky and downright weird side. “That element is at the forefront now, and if you look at the Parallax record, you could guess that was kind of going to happen. That’s when we have most fun, when we have can experiment, when we can bring out the banjo and do layering and fun stuff, more vocal harmonies, more character voices.”
“What we did with this album is we made sure the songs have a very defined core and center about them, and from there when the dynamic got to that point where it was going to reach a breaking point in terms of a heavy climax, or whatever, it was always within the context of the song and within the melodic focus of what was happening.”
In fact when discussing deeper influences in the album’s sound, Briggs points out his love for 80’s fun and oddball new wave acts such as Oingo Boingo, Talking Heads and Devo on ‘The Ectopic Stroll’ alongside their well-documented admiration for the likes of Mr Bungle. Stylistically in some sense it may be a departure from before everything at their core is still present. “That’s just all part of the kooky makeup for each member. We are still listening to the same stuff, we are still extreme weirdos; it’s just progression you know?”
The drift toward more a melodic formula is one that Briggs states was in the works for a number of years, but wasn’t necessarily a thought out decision, but one that happened organically: “The first song I remember writing was ‘Memory Palace’ and, I wish I could trace my timeline better but I think I was working on that a year ago. I know before we did our last tour on the Parallax I sent a handful of things to the guys. But right off the bat that set off a good start and a clear vision because a lot of those were full songs, so just right away it hit, and when Paul sent stuff a couple of months later he had that kind of focus, with ‘Famine Wolf’, and it was on the heavier spectrum but he was still hearing these vocal melodies, and when I dug in with him we got the chorus and a good flow for the song and it fit in perfectly, and these 5 songs had a really cool awesome flow.”
Instrumental in the greater focus on vocal melodies and new dimensions was frontman Tommy Rogers wanting to expand his delivery and venture down new avenues: “Tommy was wanting to explore things outside of screaming, and I think it was clear to us that our music was going to go in a different direction, less of a focus on death metal stuff, and I know he was wanting to find his voice and new ways of being intense without taking it to that full extreme of screaming. So I think it’s so cool, rather than just going between his scream and his soft voice, he found so much cool middle ground to work with and characters.”
With the decreasing of BTBAM’s extreme metal roots on Coma Ecliptic however there is of course the possibility of a small, narrow minded contingent decrying the decision, despite its seemingly natural path. When asked if he sees a possible backlash from some fans over this, and compared to Opeth who completely stripped their death metal elements, Briggs seems very positive and highlights the differences between the two situations.
“I don’t think so because it is still there. Mike kind of left the scream in the past, and for me what I think Opeth is doing totally fits.”
“Talking to Mikael (Akerfeldt) you can talk about the same kind of bands, obviously he loves King Crimson, he loves Yes, Genesis and you hear those influences, he just isn’t taking it to the extreme by screaming, and that’s ok”
Despite the clear differences between the two bands and the kind of extremes both have gone to in somewhat reshaping their sound, Briggs explains the difference, but sounds very thankful for an almost kindred spirit. “Its nice to see there is another band that’s an example as far as sticking to your guns. We never questioned like “should Tommy be screaming more” even back in Colors, is it weird having this big Rush kind of thing, no we are just doing it! But it’s nice to see others sticking to their guns.”
Considering the frenetic nature and the multiple personalities of Between The Buried & Me, it really is little surprise that the members have other musical ventures that they wish to explore. Earlier in the year bassist Dan Briggs revealed his avant-garde, frenzied Jazz project Trioscapes, and now vocalist Tommy Rogers presents his own project, Thomas Giles. Where Trioscapes channels the band’s dissonant and more challenging side however, Modern Noise (Metal Blade) offers the more tuneful, accessible persona, even if it does show its own restlessness.
Modern Noise is, in comparison to the other aforementioned acts, a more streamlined and simpler affair but it still shows Rogers’ wide and eclectic tastes and influences. Album opener ‘Wise And Silent’ is a dose of ambient electronica for example, which contrasts entirely to ‘Siphon The Bad Blood’ which has a much more traditional rock feel, with its rumbling bass riff and punchy chorus. A huge comparison has to be made with Faith No More in the sense of doing multiple genres and styles on one album; and of course in Rogers’ Patton aping delivery on the jazzy lounge number ‘Blueberry Queen’.
Of course Rogers’ vocals are so distinctive that this will always draw gazes towards BTBAM but where this release does distance itself is in the lack of heaviness; no signs of death metal or growls whatsoever, moving instead towards a warmer, more airy atmosphere. On the likes of ‘I Appear Disappear’ and ‘Wander Drug’ there is even a likeness to bands of the Radiohead influence of softer, more emotion driven Prog such as The Pineapple Thief.
An album with an array of influences and styles present in such a concise manner, with those immediately recognizable pipes on it, was always going to be heavily compared to the mothership act; but this does enough to walk on its own feet. Numerous listens reveal different intricacies and an alternate variety of sounds than BTBAM, approached in a more streamlined manner, yet still offers enough for those who demand their music to be thought provoking.