If there's two main terms wrongfully tossed around in heavy music, it's "progressive" and "metalcore". More often than not, bands being heralded as progressive just sound like other progressive bands. You have bands that are ‘progressive in the vein of (insert band), so tell me, how can bands be progressive by sounding like something that's already out there? In short, you can't. In regards to metalcore, having to explain the misnomer is well, unnecessary, but I'll briefly delve into the issue. It seems that many, and I'll admit I've fallen victim to this in the past, confuse death metal laden with breakdowns to be metalcore. While a particular trait of metalcore is the prominence of breakdowns, it is not an apparent trait; just because a metal song has a breakdown does not mean it's a metalcore song, because, breakdowns are not an element of any specific genre, in fact they reach much futher back, in practice and in theory. So, let me refresh you on what metalcore is: metalcore is, in its simplest, the combination of metal and hardcore.
The reason I addressed the idea of progression
and the term metalcore
? Between the Buried and Me. Rising from the ashes of Prayer for Cleansing, Between the Buried and Me used the Silent Circus, their second album, to push every limit possible within their encompassing genres. This is how they've received the moniker of the premier, if only, progressive metalcore
band. The album begins with a track split in two. Track 1, Coulrophobia, which for the record is the fear of clowns, begins with an almost sardonic sounding intro, only to hit you at full force 40 seconds in. The song immediately discredits any inhibitions one could have about the band; starting off as a mid-paced death metal song, only to slow down and take a more progressive route a minute and a half. As Paul Waggoner sweeps and arpeggiates, vocalist Tommy Rogers shouts in question, "When will I awake?, and then almost instantly the song revisits its initial sound, though slightly sped up in tempo, only to shift again, slowing down until an oddly fitting clapping sound kicks in after an extended breakdown before kicking into an almost southern sounding passage, fading out with a chunky, chugging riff. Part B, Anablephobia, which is also known as the fear of looking up, begins by revisiting the idea of clowns, only to transgress itself to the skies opening up. Lost Perfection, as both its parts complete and join together, works on both a lyrical and musical level by giving of a devoted sense of urgency and panic, a trait that can be appropriated to most of the band's songs.
Lost Perfection is evincive of more than just the bands diverse sound and aptitude for switching it up mid-song. The Lost Perfection tracks are also apparent, though to a lesser degree, of the meanings and themes behind the tracks on this album. While the lyrics may abate at times, every song maintains a strong underlying theme or idea. Ad A Dglgmut, for instance, begins without any actual lyrics. The song begins with Tommy Rogers, essentially, making noise. The title, supposedly a random message an ex-guitarist wrote on Tommy's phone, plays to the same idea. If you hadn't guessed, the idea behind the song is the apparent beauty found in noise. The song progresses from insurmountable chaos, eventually becoming more and more melodic. Four minutes in, you realize that as the lyrics say, it all makes sense. The song speaks to that idea that amidst the chaos, you can dig for beauty and in time, memorable parts, or, as the lyrics once again state, "You can't follow me, you sing along to nothing". It doesn't hurt that the song is one of the most impressive tracks on the album. The song fluctuates from chaos, to subdued melody, to grinding blast beats, and back again. While perhaps the most ambitious in sound, every other song has an idea behind it. A fan favourite, Mordecai is about how at times life can be confusing, even horrible, but doing the things we love can make it all worthwhile. Camilla Rhodes, named after a character from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, is about the over-sexification of mainstream music and pop culture as a whole. Aeasthetic is perhaps the coolest concept, as it's about a band who, as the Titanic was sinking, supposedly continued to play until reaching their demise. The reason I feel Aesthetic is so well executed is because the music seems to follow the story just as much as the lyrics. Destructo Spin is, of course, the mandatory anti-war/Bush song. The greatest part about this song is 1:41 in, where a single clean jazz note (excuse my terminology) is played, just a single note, as if to say boom. The note precedes the most chaotic passage in the song.
While it's evident I'm impressed by the meanings and ideas behind the songs, it's not always the same for the music. While each member, scratch maybe the singer, is exceedingly proficient at their instruments, often times the music sounds forced. Tommy Rogers, while clearly accomplished as a composer and songwriter, has a voice that, while diverse, comes off a little forced. His screams and shouts, while sufficient, come off as unnatural, and much of his clean vocals come of as, well, ordinary. A major highlight on the album is Paul Waggoner, the band's lead guitarist. Clearly capable of "the shred", Paul never lets his technical ability get ahead of the music; while he riffs his way across dozens of time changes, he never becomes overly wanked, if that makes sense. The solos he pulls off are quite frankly breathtaking, never compromising melody and emotion for the sake of filling in as many 256th notes as possible. In regards to the composition, at times, they do become a little too ambitious. It's not to say the band goes into 15 minute epics, because they don't, it's just that sometimes they seem to switch styles and tempos a little too often, and the transitions are sometimes less than spectacular. In fact, sometimes the band avoids segues and simply changes, without notice. While some may appreciate that, I for one like smooth transitions. Usually they vary themselves flawlessly; just sometimes it becomes a little much. For a perfect example of the bands variation, just listen to Mordecai. I know, it may seem cliché, but I feel the two softer tracks, the acoustic (Shevanel, Take 2) and the ambient Reaction, weren't exactly necessary. While it may be evident that the band wanted to allow the music to take a break from the sheer insanity, I just don't think the songs are all that well done. Reaction, for example, comes off more as a metal bands attempt at ambience than an actual ambient song. That, and it reminds me of waiting to be crunched at the chiropractor, laying bored to tears on an over sanitized table.
To find fault with The Silent Circus was no easy task, and even as I re-read the previous paragraph, I find myself second guessing my critiques. It's not to say that the band becomes contrived amongst the numerous style and tempo changes, it's just they sometimes come off a little forced and unnecessary, and at times, unnatural. Negligible flaws aside, however, this is simply one of the best to come out in the genre. Having had several line-up changes since this albums release, Between the Buried and Me are an ever evolving force to be reckoned with, and with their current and quite possibly best line-up yet, the future shows good things to come. For any fans of heavy, technical and unique music, this album is a must. Where I have found fault, one can find beauty. Where I have been impressed, one can find fault. The album is subjectively as good as it appears to be to the listener, but, as Ad A Dglgmut so boldly states, even the most subjective or dissonant of passages is capable of beauty, and so the album really must be heard to make fair judgement. A classic album, this is not. A turning point however, most definitely. This is a perfect display of a band coming together to put out something great.