Review Summary: Reliving the heydays
Back in 2007, the guitarist of my band back in the day recommended seventeen-year-old me a progressive metal record that ‘completely changed the landscape’, according to him. It blended hardcore/metalcore and progressive music perfectly and I just HAD to get into it. I didn’t… It took until the band’s follow up two years later for me to fall in love with them and retroactively see the brilliance of Between the Buried and Me’s Colors
. By the time Parallax II
came around, I was addicted and the five-piece had wedged itself firmly into my favorite bands list. Choosing to do Colors II
now, after releasing two relatively divisive records, feels like a daring move to me. Revisiting what might be the pinnacle of your career at this stage could either be the perfect comeback or the nail in the coffin.
Luckily for all of us, it turns out to be the former. Now, I can start talking about the excellent musicianship, or the amount of fun the band seems to have with these songs. I can talk about the airhorn, the cartoon sounds or the “chick-chicka”
. I can talk about the ‘more cowbell’ joke in the drum solos of ‘Fix the Error’, but I think those things are a given at this point. Rest assured they are all still there and more, but what we have here is something far more interesting. We have a (very) long album full of memorable music, that can compete with their absolute best.
At first glance the most remarkable thing about Colors II
is how focused it is. Quite a feat for a 78-minute prog-metal record, especially when you consider the unconventional song structures and the band’s tendency to noodle around quite a bit. Yet using these differing song structures forces the band to reinvent themselves on a song-by-song basis, making each song distinctive in the process. The clever thing here is giving the longer songs the most basic structure. ‘Revolution in Limbo’, ‘Never Seen / Future Shock’ and ‘Bad Habits’ all work with a clear chorus and recurring themes that leave room in between for their crazy musical escapades or crushingly heavy sections. Fix the Error is built around a drum solo-filled middle section and works as a sort of pyramid, with the second half mirroring the first half in a way. Even ‘The Double Helix of Extinction’, formless at first listen, reveals some clever songwriting in the lyrics to give it anchors to hold on to within the onslaught of furious riffing. “Our city has thrashed your valley, our city has scorned your maker”
is brought back in the final part of the song with “Our city will crumble, our city wears turmoil”
. These different approaches to structures and songwriting keep the album sounding fresh all the way through and leave me wondering “what’s coming next” instead of “when is it going to end?”.
The record is called Colors II
for a reason, yet the connections with its predecessor are not as on the nose as you might expect. Releasing a sequel to (arguably) your most lauded record 14 years after the fact, it might have been obvious to fill the album with fan service and easily recognizable throwbacks. Yet Between the Buried and Me seem to understand their fans, because the songs on Colors II
easily stand on their own without leaning on rehashed ideas. What we got instead, is an album filled to the brim with small easter eggs and vague references, not unlike the way a band like The Dear Hunter handles this. It makes subsequent listens all the more satisfying, revealing itself piece by piece while you connect the dots. I leave you all to find these little morsels for yourselves but wanted to highlight one to accentuate my point. Go listen to ‘Ants of the Sky’ at the 4-minute mark. Now go listen to ‘Bad Habits’ at the 4-minute mark. As a fan, I get a kick out of this that is much more satisfying than, for instance, having the intro of ‘Prequel to the Sequel’ repeated somewhere.
Is all rainbows and unicorns this time around then? Sadly no. While the more aggressive first half giving way to a more progressive leaning second half is a clever way to keep the attention, it is not backed up by a consistent flow. ‘The Future is Behind Us’ and ‘Turbulent’ might be too much of a loss of momentum for some and could have been placed farther apart from each other, or gotten rid of completely, depending on your viewpoint. Also, this is still Between the Buried and Me as we have always known them. In fact, while the album on its own is excellent, it gets better because it comes after two sub-par records in Coma Ecliptic
. Remove these two from the equation, and their sound has stayed pretty much the exact same for the last 14 years. What we got here is more of the same. More of the excellent same, which I’m pretty sure is all fans would want from them, but more of the same nonetheless. It’s not going to sway many critics of Colors
or The Great Misdirect
Does it need to? I think this far into their career we can easily answer this question with a resounding ‘No’. Between the Buried and Me know what people want from them, and manage to give us 78 minutes of focused, fresh ideas full of highlights and even more underneath the surface for those of us patient and interested enough to give it the time it needs.