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.
To some, jazz and metal may seem like odd bedfellows, but over time the paths of jazz and a variety of heavy music styles have crossed on numerous occasions in varying ways. Plenty of bands have cited the likes of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis as an influence whilst acts from the likes of King Crimson to contemporary artists as diverse as Between The Buried & Me, Meshuggah, Trioscapes and The Contortionist have shown signs of its inspiration and aesthetic. Very few extreme metal acts however have shown as bold and overt a marriage as France’s Trepalium have over the years.
Over a number of albums Trepalium have taken Jazz’s most stereotypical musical traits and instrumentation and intertwined with a gnarly but accessible breed of death metal, creating a mind-jarring but infectious hybrid; and their latest EP, the recently re-titled Damballa’s Voodoo Doll (Klonosphere), is their strongest and most fully-realized effort to date. The jazz elements come across as very cartoonish rather than as avant-garde unpredictability but this is clearly the desired effect. EP opener ‘Moonshine Limbo’ encapsulates this with the introduction of what appears to be a bar fight in a classic Western style bar, with broken glass and piano before a chorus of trumpets signals its eruption to the current day.
Both sides of the coin take center stage at different points rather than messily fighting for attention. The title track for example shows the band’s jazz side taking time out on the bench, whilst on the likes of ‘Possessed By The Nightlife’ it is given room to really flourish. Taking these two musical styles as standalone parts, neither are revolutionary takes in themselves, while the vocals are a tad one dimensional in tone. Altogether, though, this delivers a unique and, most importantly, fun combination.
Of course for some this may seem like a gimmick, and yes it is very tongue in cheek at times, but here Trepalium have fine-tuned their vision and given their strongest, most immediate and enjoyable release to date. A strong reminder of both extreme metal’s (and jazz’s) knack for experimentation and of both genre’s ever crossing roads.
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.