Review Summary: Heavy, chaotic, progressive metalcore/death metal. Like nothing you've ever heard before. A near masterpiece with a couple of flaws that keep it from perfection.
Between The Buried & Me is:
Tommy Rogers (Vocals/Keyboards)
Paul Waggoner (Lead/Rhythm Guitar)
Dusty Warning (Rhythm Guitar)
Blake Richardson (Drums/Percussion)
Dan Briggs (Bass Guitar)
I recently purchased Between The Buried & Me’s Alaska after hearing a lot of good things about the band, in particular this album. I was expecting something heavy, chaotic and progressive but I quickly found out that I was in way over my head with this album, but in a very good way. It’s the same way I felt my first time listening to Dream Theater, Opeth, Death and Mastodon. Hearing something so new, so different but so great. The feeling started as soon as the opening track All Bodies graced my speakers.
As soon as the frenzied sounding lead guitar line opened up All Bodies I knew I was in for one heavy treat. When the rest of the band comes in, all playing at a weird tempo, the chaotic guitar and bass going everywhere and Tommy Roger’s death metal influenced metalcore vocals come in I was in musical ecstasy. The frequent breakdowns, tempo changes and stand-out lead guitar and bass lines keep the song ultra interesting the whole way through. But what got me hooked was when Tommy sings in his clean voice, “Keeper of the stars. I hope to never find. We are just mortal souls, left to die,” and the lead guitar plays an awesome Dream Theater sounding riff that’s better than most guitar solos out there. That section of the song is pure genius. Also the first time where Tommy screams, “All bodies, Contortion,” there’s some killer Dream Theater sounding guitar work and if you listen closely there’s some crazy keyboarding in the background that sounds like a scale. A great and kick ass way to open an album. Without giving any time to catch your breath, here comes the title track, Alaska. It's opening is neo-classical sounding with some keyboarding work in it. Soon it erupts into a metalcore/thrash fest where Tommy layers his vocals to add to the chaos. Soon after this the tempo slows into a doom metal sounding section, all of this in around one minute. It doesn’t stop there Alaska is one of the best and most crazy tracks on the album and it continues to assault your ears for about three minutes.
How could a band accomplish so much in often so short a time, you ask? BTBAM doesn’t waste any time noodling on forgettable riffs. Not because the music is straightforward and the songs are short but because BTBAM doesn’t give sections of their music time to become boring or forgettable because the themes in their music change constantly. However I feel BTBAM really mastered the art of allowing themes of their music just enough time to mature but not enough time to get boring or take away from the chaotic progression of their music. So after the title track you could really use a breather right…wrong. BTBAM hits you with the short but ultra heavy Croakies and Boatshoes. Weirdly enough this song works like a breather even if it is practically murdering you via music. The song actually does two out of the three things I feel a breather should do. It sounds different enough to keep things from running together and its’ different sound makes the tracks around it stand out. The only thing it doesn’t do, that breathers generally do, is give your ears a break.
Selkies: The Endless Obsession comes in with a keyboard playing the main riff. Then the band comes and it sounds like a great prog metal song. Yet your expecting the song to explode at any time especially when some blast beat drumming comes in. It really puts you on the edge of your seat. But just as you think your in for a heavy assault, the vocals come in and it sounds like stoner rock. But soon after the metalcore assault starts again. Right around 3:50 the song turns into a prog rock song with great clean vocals from Tommy. After his singing comes an amazing clean, electric, blues guitar solo. There’s also a lot of great piano work in this soft section. After the blues solo, the song turns more into prog metal and great guitar soloing continues until the end of the song. When I was listening to this I came to a realization. I’ve heard people talk about how Lamb of God has the potential to become the American version of Opeth. Well not only do I tend to disagree with that claim but to me BTBAM has already become the American version of Opeth. BTBAM can switch between heavy and soft like nothing the same way Opeth does. If that’s not a testament to BTBAM’s music I don’t know what is.
After Selkies we finally get a real breather in the just under a minute Breath In, Breathe Out. It’s a nice acoustic and is really needed to get ready for the two onslaughts that come next. Roboturner breaks the softness with a demonic scream and freaking insane riffing and blast beat drumming. Roboturner is one of the heavier and more chaotic songs on this album, not once does it go soft. It also often goes to a doomish sounding metal. It’s a great song but not quite the songs that came before it. Backwards Marathon is the longest song on the album at 8:27. The heavy parts are typical BTBAM it’s good but doesn’t stand out like All Bodies or the title track does. Later the song turns into prog rock and Tommy sings in his superb clean voice. At the end of the prog rock section he raises his voice really high and says, “It’s raining,” and it sounds amazing. Then the death/metalcore assault comes back but soon switches back to prog metal. Good song but lacks a certain spark. We get another breather in Medicine Wheel, it’s a fairly long (around four and a half minutes) acoustic and it’s a great listen the first couple times but it gets boring after a few listens.
Moving onto the end, The Primer stars with a sweet scream and melodic death metal riffing. In fact this song owes a lot of its influence to melodic death metal. After the somewhat plodding middle section of this album this is a breath of fresh air, a fantastic song. At some points Tommy’s singing even sounds like black metal and helps flesh out the song. Towards the middle there’s a sweet chugging break down that reminds me of something Lamb of God would do. The ending of The Primer sounds like carnival music and it’s actually kind of creepy. Autodidact is typical BTBAM crazy powerful death/metalcore in fact one of the guitar riffs is possibly the most chaotic on this album. However what makes Autodidact such a great listen is that it’s shorter than a song like Roboturner, at only five and a half minutes; it doesn’t get old or bog down. Another thing that helps is the use of some speaking and noises in the background, which grab your attention. Autodidact would have served as a good ending for this superb album but instead BTBAM chose something different. Laser Speed is a Latin jazz, acoustic instrumental that sounds like elevator music. It’s a cool song by itself but it makes a pretty boring end to this album. It’s not that big of a deal but it’s noticeable.
-Everyone in BTBAM is very technically proficient at what they do.
-BTBAM have mastered that art of allowing themes time to mature before changing to a new theme but not enough time to get boring or take away from the chaotic progression.
-Unless you’re a BTBAM or The Red Chord fan, this is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
-The middle of this album is somewhat bogged down and plodding to me.
-A bit too crazy and heavy for many.
-Selkies: The Endless Obsession
-Backwards Marathon (I feel it lacks a certain spark but most BTBAM fans love it so it's definitly worth a try)
In conclusion Alaska is a superb just short of classic album. Next time around if BTBAM work out the few kinks that were in this album they’ll have a masterpiece.