Review Summary: Between the Buried and Me produce a surprisingly varied and successful fourth album that is only eclipsed by their landmark LP "The Silent Circus."
Between the Buried and Me - Colors
This review begins with a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjA5faZF1A8
This video of a young, faceless kid playing a metal rendition of Pachelbel's famous Canon in D is ubiquitous on youtube. Being one of its first highly rated and viewed videos, that video ascended along with youtube itself. This video is so popular that if you walk into an Apple store you'll see it playing on a big screen demoing an iPhone. Now, we all know Pachebels's canon is the "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley of classical music; it is ridiculously overplayed. Then, to have some 14-year old metalhead shredding out its familiar melodies, only adds to its appeal. We like to hear what is catchy and familiar, but also what is challenging and technical. However, this video also sheds light on an interesting trend. It doesn't take some amazing amount of taste or a refined knowledge of music to play a Dream Theater song in your parents' basement while waiting for your Digiornio pizza to be out of the oven. The Petrucci's and Satriani's of the world are still amazing guitarists, but if youtube has taught us anything, it isn't tough for those "godly" guitarists to be replicated, much less by a 14-year old with nothing better to do than pick up his Jackson or his ESP ltd. and shred away. As a result, shredding for the sake of shredding, or shredding for the catchiness and "Whoa!" appeal is a little less valuable. Sweeps, pinched harmonics, fast alternate picking, and a collection of other "advanced" techniques can be executed with precision by hordes of teenagers. If you're a technical band, creating technical music, like Between the Buried and Me, where do you go if anybody can play the sweep picking to the introduction of one of your most popular songs "Aesthetic?"
The ornamentation of the Pachelbel melody, over slightly varied versions of the Pachelbel harmonies at the end of "Ants of the Sky" on Between the Buried and Me's new album Colors
suggest to the naive listener that BTBAM is content to rely on the cuteness of the 14-year old shredding game. However, to anybody who has taken BTBAM 101 or listened to the bar-room folk passage that preceded the power metal of Pachelbel on "Ants of the Sky" would realize that BTBAM are operating on a completely different wavelength than the fat, pimply 14-year old in his parent's basement shredding out in imitation of a Slayer solo while wearing his favorite Babylon 5 t-shirt. BTBAM may be the most tongue-in-cheek, self-aware band in metal today short of HORSE the band. They have previously released three LPs that all blend progressive, grind, melodic death, power metal, pop, arena rock, and hair metal, into a crazy yet oddly palatable amalgam. They even released a cover album that featured songs by bands that ranged from the metal of Pantera and Metallica through the prog of King Crimson and Queen, the grunge of Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden, and the acoustic pop of Counting Crows and Blind Melon. After what has preceded Colors
, to lump their "token" melodies and harmonies into the category of youtube metal would disregard a purposeful mash-up of a wide range of genres and influences that is actually sublime. Because BTBAM are juxtaposing such incongruous genres and even have the presence to make fun of their own style ("It all makes sense / we're capable of beauty" (from the sweet, poppy passage on "Ad a dglgmut"), they have proven that they can separate themselves from the wayward values of desperate shredheads. The result is music that is challenging and technical, catchy and lovable, but more satirical and caustic than anything else, protecting BTBAM from the shame a band like Dream Theater will receive for releasing a 30-minute song.
I have been speaking broadly of the virtues of Between the Buried and Me and am supposed to be specifically touching on the pros and cons of their new album Colors
. The short of it is that Colors
is a return to the greatness that BTBAM established on The Silent Circus
, though maybe they cheese out a little too much, despite their sardonic tone. The first question on any BTBAM fan's mind (and also on the mind of all the 14-year olds out there) is "does BTBAM bring the cr00sh shred?" Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Colors
is undeniably BTBAM's most technical album to date. Looking back at BTBAM's previous releases, probably the most stand out technical moment that enchants with catchiness as much as it does with its technical prowess is the ending to "Selkies: the Endless Obsession." There are moments that are probably more challenging based on angularity and relentlessness, but the end solo and sweeps on "Selkies" comprise a beautiful few moments that stand out against the mass of BTBAM's back catalog of shred. While Colors
may not have any one moment that stands out with such singular power, it has at least a hundred moments that are biting at the heels of "Selkies." There are so many moments, it's hard to pick any one to single out and enjoy. Such is a the saturation of awesome technicality of Colors
. All of the instruments bring the shred like you can't believe. The only performance that has "changed" is the vocal performance, which has traded in the death vocals for a Freddie Mercury wail and a nice, soft melodic vocal styling as well. All of the other musicians have just taken their previous talents and riffs and made them bigger, stronger, faster, and dumped them throughout the album with a higher frequency.
As a whole, Colors
plays like one 65-minute metal marathon. There are moments of epic power ballads, mere minutes of thrash relentlessness, and even goofball Mr. Bungle breakdowns. I'm preferring this format to the more song-based format of Alaska
. This fluidity seems to be a throwback to The Silent Circus
days when the end of "Mordecai" blended seamlessly into "Reaction," "Shevanel (Part 2)," and then "Ad a dglgmut." On the other side of the coin is the fact that it is often difficult to take breaks from the music. Everything is seamless, and on top of that, relentless, leaving the listener continuously pummeled by the BTBAM style. There are interlude tracks and sections, but there is never any real space to breathe on this album, making it feel cluttered, despite its expansive 65-minute run time. However, when you're alternating insane, tempos, feels, genres, and what have you, that schizophrenic, cluttered feeling is half the fun. I guess at the end of the day, it's a give and take. I can't call that a strength or a weakness, but best be aware of the neverending nonstop quality of Colors
Another reason it's difficult to fault Between the Buried and Me for the nonstop progressive metal on this album is that Colors
is BTBAM's most varied album to date. For a band that already has a laundry list of crazy, eclectic influences, BTBAM have really outdone themselves. On top of their usual combinations, added to the mix are free jazz, folk, middle eastern, and polka. Yes, polka (though some may argue that polka has always been there in the goofy duple accents on songs like "Aspirations"). BTBAM doesn't even waste any time at including new influences, starting their album on solo piano who's opening harmonic gesture of a major chord to a flat sixth degree on top of it, hearkens back the same popular progression familiar to the Romantic era. Also, whereas on previous albums, BTBAM would essentially have two modes, 50% progressive metal and 50% "everything else," on Colors
all of the random genres are spliced together in much more equal portions. I'd say their usual dissonant progressive metal, diminished arpeggiations, power chords, and all, are maybe 10% of this album, as BTBAM features a lot more power metal and arena rock this time around to allow a more seamless flow between utter brutality and pure catchiness, the two accessible yet heavy genres of power metal and arena rock acting as segues.
However, this integration of new genres is not all peaches and cream. Colors
will make you laugh at times. Literally I lolled. There is a moment where I question the tastefulness of a country breakdown or a polka interlude. The integrations add to variety, which is nice, but at moments the inclusions can feel gauche. In many ways Between the Buried and Me's juxtapositions are purposefully gauche, I think BTBAM even trumps themselves sometimes in producing moments that are not even palatable. Another major issue with the new genres in Colors
is that the Pachelbel metal, while applied in a self-aware, ironic fashion, gets a little heavyhanded a times. The end of "Ants of the Sky" is brief and cute, but the preceding song "Sun of Nothing" employs hair metal to a fault. It's a fun song but it begs the question: has BTBAM become what they make fun of? Similarly, the middle eastern augmented seconds on "Informal Gluttony" feel like Necrophagist as much as BTBAM.
At the end of the day though, I feel like Between the Buried and Me manages to walk the fine line between ironic and tacky. They surely aren't just 14-year olds in their parents' basements, but maybe they also aren't the ultimate band for poking fan at such existing bands (HORSE the band will probably win that title). And beyond that, the endgame for most BTBAM fans is that the album needs to be technical and fun, even if it's cheesy, and Colors
delivers that to a T. They even indulge in broadening their musical horizons and constructing a 65-minute epic song. Colors
is brutal and accessible: unwieldy in its size and heaviness, yet attractive in its kitsch appeal and impressive "whoa" instrumental performances. And that's something the one-trick pony Pachelbel never achieved.
Recommended Tracks: Any track longer than 8 minutes, Any track shorter than 3 minutes