Review Summary: Ladies and gentlemen: the one, the only, Between the Buried and Me
There is no one quite like Between the Buried and Me. However, I must admit, BTBAM is also a little like everyone. This is almost a paradox of sorts. For people with a broad taste in metal you will find any one of their songs, presenting riffs reminiscent of several different bands, or even genres. Up until this new EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, this has been their gimmick, and to the BTBAM haters, their biggest downfall. I don't think anyone is arguing that they aren’t extremely proficient at their instruments, just that their songwriting sounds like a bunch of random riffs and genres thrown together without any sense of direction. On this new EP, BTBAM continues to use unconventional song structures spanning many different genres; however, this EP also showcases a band now starting to perfect what they can do when writing music outside the boundaries of conventional song structure, creating some of their most directed songs to date.
The song Specular Reflection is the best example of the band exploring what they can do when creating music outside the realm of standard music structures. A Schenkerian-like analysis can be of some value when trying to analyze this song. This type of analysis studies the underlying structures found within music. One of the aspects that it looks at is the long-range structure of the piece; the relationship between the keys, chords and melodies within each section, in order to create a simpler inner-truth as to why the piece works, and why we perceive it to sound good. Most music uses mainly melody and harmony (or chords) to create order. Because BTBAM songs are composed of so many parts, it is more helpful to see how each section, or riff relates to each other, rather than simply how the melody and chords relate.
There are 3 key sections to this song that give order to the song as a whole. The first key section (A section) is the beginning of the song, which opens with an ominous piano line that is layered with very dissonant orchestral melodies. This section creates a sense of disorientation, both sonically and thematically, as the song suddenly shifts to more straightforward BTBAM death metal riffs. The second key section (B section) begins at 3:12, as the song moves into the famous BTBAM riff that is reminiscent of riffs found on White Walls and Swim to the Moon. Its familiarity is being used to draw your attention to another important section of the song. Underneath this BTBAM motif, the bass is playing a rhythm that is one of the centerpieces of the song, and one that will be more fully developed later. The third important section (C section) is next, and is what I would consider to be almost like a chorus. This chorus is among the best that they have written thus far.
With this song, I almost get the sense that they are telling a story out of order. Like a movie that begins at the end, and then goes back to tell how you get there, with these three sections BTBAM now will take us back through their story and piece it together. At 4:40, the song returns to the B section to further develop this riff. This seems to be the key section that the rest of the song pivots around. This time without the BTBAM motif over the top, the B section takes the bass rhythm from before and layers it with a brilliant vocal melody, awesome guitar riff, and spacey synthesizer part. Next the song develops the plot with some more brutal death metal riffage. Then, at 7:12, BTBAM briefly reminds us of the beginning of song with a snippet from the orchestral A section, played on the guitar. In our fictional BTBAM movie, this is like they used a brief cut scene to remind us of something from the beginning of the movie. Instead of completely returning to this section, they abruptly move on through some more heavy riffs before we finally come back to where we started. This is similar to a deceptive cadence in classical music, where composers make you think you are returning to the beginning of a section, but instead delay the return with some new material. At 8:20, they finally do return to the A section from the beginning of the song, but this time played completely on the guitar. This version of the A section really is signaling the beginning of the end. This is where the movie returns to the opening scene, in order to play out the end of the story. Next, the song leads into another variation of the B section riff again, this time beginning with a vocal part copying the bass rhythm. It then builds in intensity by layering the BTBAM motif, this time played with distorted guitars, over the top of brilliant variations on the bass line. With this building tension, we finally learn where it has all been leading. The final triumphant and climactic return to the C section.
The lyrics, while ambiguous, are displayed in a way that reinforce the structure of the music. There are two identities, called "prospects", presented in the song. Prospect 1 encompasses the music up through the first C section. Then, at the return to the lengthier version of the B section, the lyrics shift to Prospect 2's perspective. The lyrics create another indicator that this is a musical pivot point, serving as a musical segue between the two realities. The second Prospect then takes us back through to the second C section to end the song. This C section is labeled with both Prospects 1 and 2, showing it is somehow linking both story lines. These lyrics, combined with the music, show that, as the title also suggests, these two identities are in some sort of a "reflectional" relationship with one another. Each character is linked by their similar musical themes found in the two halves of the song, and reflected around the pivot point in the middle B section.
Again, Schenker means to find simple underlying truths and structures within great music. In this fashion, this is one way Specular Reflection could look like when mapped out by sections:
Dashes are intermediary death metal riffs
*B* denotes the coolest section of the song... also the pivot point
(a) Is a deceptive return to A section
The other two songs on the album are equally impressive, and both present some new ideas along with the old BTBAM sound we have grown to love. The black metal riffs are a standout on Augment of Rebirth, along with an accordion breakdown and big Ants of the Sky-espue chorus to end the song. Lunar Wilderness is a song that will surly become a fan favorite, as it is reminiscent of Selkies in its more melodic approach. Found in this song is also some cool jazzy xylophone parts.
How does this album rate against their previous albums? It truly is an improvement in almost every sense. Their musicianship continues to get better with every album. There are amazing guitar and bass riffs, jaw dropping drum rhythms and time signatures, and Tommy has really stepped up his vocal prowess on this album. We are starting to hear him realize all the things he can do with his voice, as his screams are now becoming more varied, and his clean sections are becoming more complex. The production on this album is amazing as well. Every sound is mixed perfectly, to really give each section a certain feel.
BTBAM is composing music on a level that no one else is in metal today, and the BTBAM motif is one of the many reasons why. They are finding ways to make complex connections to parts within their songs, and with the BTBAM motif, connections that even span entire albums. In truth, this is what metal has always been about, pushing the boundaries of what we consider to be limits or rules in music. In an era where there are now more metal genres than anyone can keep count of, and countless copies within each subgenre, it is refreshing to listen to music that is still finding brilliant ways to create new ideas within the broad genre of metal.
BTBAM isn’t for everyone. Their songs are long and complex, not unlike some novels that force you to keep many characters straight. If you are not willing to take the time to sort it all out, it can be disorienting, and you will completely miss the point. For the rest of us who are wiling to take that time, this new record solidifies the fact that we are watching one of the most influential metal bands of our generation unfold before our eyes. Every album they continue to grow, adding new influences while building on their previous unique songwriting craft. This is metal at its finest, completely unapologetic, and all the while blazing a path into uncharted territory.