Review Summary: While The Great Misdirect might not match the raw intensity of The Silent Circus, it might be their most coherent album yet.
A new Between the Buried and Me album means a new locomotive, and this time the hype-train is chugging along faster than ever. For most fans of the band, Colors
was a landmark release. Alaska
was, in a lot of ways, just another take on The Silent Circus
. A shit
tier one, at that. But Colors
brought something new. Not only did it finally make full use of one-time session musicians Blake, Dan and Dustie, but it pushed the band further into their earlier hinted progressive tendencies. Problem is, Colors
was actually kind of a mess. Most of the songs were too long, they featured awkward, sloppy (or sometimes nonexistent) transitions. The heavy parts were regurgitated from their past works (sometimes verbatim) and the off-kilter, 'wacky' parts in “Sun of Nothing” and “Ants of the Sky” seemed like they were only there to fill up space and show us that the band has a fun side. Of course I'm nit-picking, Colors
was still pretty fucking
good, but it was obviously the beginning of a transition, one I think they've completed on The Great Misdirect
The Great Misdirect
is very much a structural refinement of Colors
. It's in the same vein, but better in every way. Like its predecessor, The Great Misdirect
also starts with a softer number, but unlike “Foam Born”, “Mirrors” feels like a fully developed song instead of a passing thought. The Great Misdirect
also ends with a long-running epic, but we'll get to that later. First, I want to revisit those aforementioned 'wacky' parts. You know the ones I'm referring to; the Bungle-esque philandering in “Sun of Nothing” and the “Shevanel” revisiting bluegrass from “Ants of the Sky”. Technically speaking, those parts were well done. But they were totally fucking
pointless in the context of the songs, and they tragically cheapened what was otherwise the best one-two punch on the album. It felt like the band was laughing at us, showing off with a mildly retarded charm reminiscent of MadTV's Stewart. “Look what I can do” repeated over and over and over. As an indicator of the refinement that took place between albums, the wackiness actually takes centre stage on “Fossil Genera”, but it's a flip of the script when its swinging circus aesthetic fits more comfortably within their sound than genre-typical instrumental flexing. No, The Great Misdirect
's flow isn't chopped by left-of-centre Patton-isms, but what I'd like to call the Prog Nation effect. No song makes this more evident than the 18 minute (and ten minutes too long) “Swim to the Moon”.
Sure, it's never as disorganized as “Black Rose Immortal” or as outrightly terrible as any of Dream Theater's epics, but it's still pretty self-indulgent and way too fucking
long, which isn't to say the extraneous parts fall at the end. No, “Swim to the Moon” drags its feet through its midway, pulling the listener through minutes of ego-fellating shred. It's not the solos---keys and guitars primarily-- that flirt with tastelessness; it's their very presence. Barring Tommy's epileptic noodling, “Swim to the Moon”'s masturbatory interlude serves its purpose. Instrumentally speaking, it's impressive. But the fact remains that it's purpose is nonexistent. We already knew they could play their instruments. As a result “Swim to the Moon” is an already long song made even longer by a tasteless jam session. It would work in a live setting, giving the band room to really show their stuff and have some fun (for once). On the album it's superfluous, showy and in the end pretty fucking
stupid. Even still, “Swim to the Moon” is still a good song. It does a good job at establishing dynamics toward the end---when you expect it to follow suit with Alaska
in its use of a cacophonous breakdown...well, the breakdown is still there (and it still sounds the exact fucking
same as it did on Colors
), but the track actually ends on a surprisingly mellow note. Reusing the same riff that introduces the song in different contexts (from the Blue Man Group-like beginning to heavier and ever western sounding flairs) helps keep the song afloat and keys the listener back into the song, but it saves the song falling completely off the map--it doesn't excuse the longwinded self-indulgences. But like I said, “Swim to the Moon” isn't a bad song. In fact there are no bad songs on The Great Misdirect
, a fact which may be as much of a testament to each track's variety and extended runtime than anything.
Wedged between the 12 minute “Fossil Genera” and the 18 minute “Swim to the Moon”, “Desert of Song” could pass for the weakest on the album (though I'd personally give that honour to “Swim to the Moon”). But clocking in at a modest five and a half minutes, it's a necessary bridge between two long-winded epics. Its mostly-acoustic crooning may be without any real context, but by making use of Paul Waggoner's rarely heard (and surprisingly capable) vocals as well as a well placed, jaw-dropping bass-work, “Desert of Song” gives the listener a chance to breath. Other than “Mirrors”, it's really the only one they'll get.
That's because “Obfuscation”, “Disease, Injury, Madness” and “Fossil Genera” are unrelenting in their madness. Clocking in at increasing run times (10, 11 and 12 minutes respectively), each song drifts further from the band's roots than the last. “Obfuscation” would fit right in during the post-Alaska
period. Using their “Ad A Dglgmut” model, it toys with a comparatively simple 'soft-hard' dynamic. The album's best song, “Disease, Injury, Madness” does things a little differently. It still ultimately uses the same idea, going from smooth to harsh to smooth, but focuses on the execution, not the dynamic itself. It also ends on an excellent blues-y groove that could have succeeded uniquely as a track of its own. I've already mentioned “Fossil Genera”, but it's worth reiterating that it's as far from their metalcore beginnings as they could have gotten. Of course it begins by bordering on plagiarism, with Tommy doing his finest Patton impersonation and featuring an off-kilter, “Elton John goes to a metal circus” aesthetic, but it's still a lot of fun without coming across as a total joke.
While some of the band's lingering faults poke their heads in throughout the album's hour of power (derp), they're less of an issue than ever. There are fewer awkward, forced transitions than before (the only one that comes immediately to mind is what separates “Disease, Injury, Madness” and “Fossil Genera”) and each song works as well on its own as it does in the overall scheme of things. Tommy's vocals are better than ever; his throat doesn't sound like it's exploding when he goes harsh and his cleans aren't as robotic and post-processed as they've been in the past. There's also less of him than ever, something that should appease the sceptics. Blake finally learned some unique drum patterns for the heavier parts and, most importantly, each song finally feels like it has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Between the Buried and Me have refined their sound and improved their songwriting ten-fold, and while The Great Misdirect
may not match The Silent Circus
' raw energy and intensity, it might be their most coherent album yet.