Ghost Cult’s chief editor Keefy caught up with Tommy Rogers of Between the Buried and Me recently to discuss their upcoming remastered and remixed version of their debut album, due out on May 15th via Craft Recordings. We chatted with Tommy about the formation of the band, the post-hardcore, metalcore, and Death Metal scene the band came from in Raleigh North Carolina in their previous band Prayer for Cleansing and peers such as Code 7, Undying, Day of Suffering, recording with Jamie King on his first significant release and Jamie’s impact on the band, how the debut telegraphs elements of music the band would incorporate later, the process of remixing and remastering, what shaped Tommy as a singer and lyricist on the first album, taking “creative risks” as an artist, how the lineup change for the Alaska release shaped the future, how the band looked like nerds in their first photos, being a “keyboard” act in heavy music, his favorite song now from back then, and much more. You can order the album in several different bundles here https://found.ee/btbam-st-r and listen to our chat now.
It’s long past the time of day when Thomas Giles (aka Tommy Rogers of Between The Buried And Me) began being able to do whatever the hell he wanted. To be fair, to say his day job band has moments of eclecticism is like saying that Brexit negotiations have been a little bit difficult. And that diversity of spirit, of zig-zag, is absolutely at the core of fourth solo offering Don’t Touch The Outside (Sumerian Records), a record that is everything and nothing, and that is laissez-faire in respect of genre while being incredibly focused in trying to keep the listener moving. Continue reading
Forever moving to the beat of their own drum, progressive metallers Between The Buried & Me have very rarely done anything in a conventional manner. Always renowned for their madcap blend of contrasting styles and structures, a previous announcement this year saw them choose to release their latest effort, Automata (Sumerian) as a double, split album individually released throughout the year. With Automata I seeing the light of day back in March, it was expected to have set the tone for its companion piece, Automata II; but once again, BTBAM do things their own way. Continue reading
Surpassing expectations is never an easy thing to do. In the case of North Carolina’s Between The Buried And Me, the speculation over what this most idiosyncratic of bands would do next has ranged from mild curiosity to fevered anticipation and all the compass points in between. The plaudits that followed 2015’s Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade) varied from admiration to salivation and whilst there remained a soupcon of “I preferred their earlier work” running alongside, it was a record that established the band as one of the tent poles in an increasingly burgeoning Progressive Metal scene.
Arjen Lucassen recently announced that the new Ayreon album, The Source, will be hitting stores on April 27th via Mascot Label Group. Continue reading
Between The Buried And Me frontman Tommy Rogers will release his new solo album under the name Thomas Giles on November 4th thanks to Sumerian Records. Continue reading
There used to be a misapprehension that “feel” and technique were mutually exclusive, particularly if your act was of the progressive nature. Musicians were either in a deep, trance state where odysseys were channelled through fingers and larynxes (it’d certainly explain some of the lyrical fascinations of the 70’s), or were producing unfeeling, but impeccable, noodling, or to be more contemporaneous, poly-rhythming. Both of tonight’s denizens of the stage well and truly disproved that; Haken bringing a light, uplifting elation and Between The Buried And Me a myriad of journeys.
Another misconception is that bands of a prog bent don’t have a sense of humour, a fallacy shattered within seconds of entering Camden’s Electric Ballroom and seeing Haken’s glorious Kevin Bacon T-shirt, leaving the unsure in no doubt as to how to pronounce the band name. With fellow Ghost Cultist Rafa Davies having acquired said garment and with beverages purchased, the mood was ripe for the London based sextet to enhance a reputation that took a steep climb up 2013’s The Mountain (InsideOut). Concentrating mainly on that breakthrough opus, they set about marrying the impressive quirky and progressive rock with an immaculate live performance, including a touch of ‘Hocus Pocus’ing, spotless yodel-ay-ee-oh’s and all.
Between The Buried And Me’s approach is an altogether more layered assault, from teasing and probing progressive movements, through floating crescendos diving into djented stabs and jazzed death metal acts of sensory violence. Despite being shorn of any elaborate production, nonetheless BTBAM don’t do basics, with each band member faultless and pristine, delivering each song with album quality precision in a consummate performance that still felt like there was meaning and intent in the delivery.
It’s no secret I struggle with BTBAM in general, but a quality live act is a quality live act, and the North Carolinians are able to transmit their passion for their music and their fans, ensuring multi-faceted beasts like ‘Ants Of The Sky’ connect not just aurally but emotionally with a charged audience who respond in turn. Here lies no serenade of po-faced disconnection, instead deep, ethereal moments are respected and inhaled, and the crushing metal segments are devoured.
And yet if prog-gasm had been achieved in a main set that included three very well received tracks from this years’ mind-melting Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade), along with favourites ‘Selkies’ and ‘Lay Your Ghosts To Rest’ and more, that’s nothing to the rapture that beheld the throng during a remarkable cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, during which Tommy Rogers showed that Brian May et al missed a trick by not throwing hods of cash his way to front the band during their post-Freddie shows.
This was a performance to impress even the most sceptical with both bands bringing complex, technical and diverse songs to the live setting with exquisite tightness and proficiency, but above all exuding emotion and sincerity while holding that line of not taking things too seriously live. While Haken’s music spoke to me most, there’s no denying that damn near everyone left feeling they’d witnessed a great gig.
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.”
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.