Between The Buried And Me
7th July 2015 – Metal Blade Records
02. The Coma Machine
03. Dim Ignition
04. Famine Wolf
05. King Redeem/Queen Serene
06. Turn on the Darkness
07. The Ectopic Stroll
08. Rapid Calm
09. Memory Palace
10. Option Oblivion
11. Life in Velvet
Three years after the release of their last opus, 2015 sees Between the Buried and Me in a decidedly familiar territory. Coma Ecliptic is another sprawling science-fiction concept album, played out in the atypical blend of progressive metal, metalcore, and jazz fusion that has been peppering Between the Buried and Me albums since 2007’s Colors.
But where the last three full-length records fell into an irregular concoction of mix-mashed ideas and sonic experimentations – that often fell flat – Coma Ecliptic brings about a more confident mixture for the band; one that is at times more straightforward and melodic, and yet still unexpectedly technical in the most bizarre of ways. With a more confident band comes a bigger and louder statement; one that isn’t held back by inhibitions or doubts. However, whether or not fans respond to what the band has to say, remains to be determined.
Tommy Rogers seems to be the star of the show on Coma Ecliptic, and this can be taken as either a highlight or a huge detriment, depending on your mileage and appreciation for his vocals and electronic sensibilities – both of which are heavily utilized here. Coming off the heels of his most recent solo album, Rogers seems to have become imbued with a higher sense of confidence in his clean singing, and experimentation as a whole. He commands the spotlight whenever his vocals kick in; whether it be his crunchy death growls (which have have taken on a much more vicious tone), or the Cynic-esque vocoder distortion on his cleans, or even just the pure operatic clean singing that dominates the album. He also utilizes a few eccentricities that have shown up on previous records, but are more apparent on this new outing, such as the goofy yet oddly mesmerizing accents he affects during “The Ectopic Stroll” and the sinister narration of “Famine Wolf“. It’s an interesting approach that might end up putting a lot of listeners off of what is actually two of the best songs on the album, but ultimately the interplay between these varying vocal styles helps create a sense of dynamism to the music on display.
There’s also a heightened focus on Rogers’ keyboards and piano. Entire passages and indeed songs themselves are written around the progression of certain piano motifs. The skill and power behind his melodies is something we have only really glimpsed in previous albums, so while everything feels distinctly Between the Buried and Me, it also feels fresh and enhanced because they actually get room to breathe and be their own element. And as is the case with his vocals, whenever the piano or keys pop up, the rest of the band falls away – sometimes even being limited to playing nothing but chugged staccato riffs, or nothing at all (such as the heavily electronic influenced “Rapid Calm” and “Dim Ignition“); an aspect of the album that will surely put off fans of the band’s more technical and breakneck approach to instrumentation.
In fact, the ebb and flow of the spotlight and instrumentation is a recurring aspect of Coma Ecliptic. Whereas on previous efforts the full band put in their full effort on every second of every song, Coma Ecliptic has them trading in moments with each other. Nobody gets left out, and the technicality is still there; nobody is going to be able to argue that Paul’s leads and solos are anything but epic and frenzied – even if there are more moments of what one could call clean guitar – or that Dan Briggs does anything less than utilize his bass to the full extent and ambition of the instrument capable in metal – but there’s a certain shift in the structure of these songs where sometimes, yeah, the guitars or the drums are taking a backseat, or vice versa. It’s all about letting each member shine for their specific purpose at any given moment. It’s a noticeable change, though it doesn’t truly act as a detriment, as these all take place to service the compositions.
And when it comes to Coma Ecliptic, composition is the name of the game. It’s not about including as many breakneck riffs, jarring transitions, or quirky musical segues shoved randomly into the songs in an effort to seem ‘avant-garde’ or weird. Those moments still exist, sure – the entirety of “The Ectopic Stroll” for one, and several sections of “Memory Palace” – but they are far fewer in number than previous albums. This helps lend a sense of cohesion and uniformity to the sound and structure of these songs, that while not immediately apparent, feels more natural and progressive for the listener.
And it’s this aspect above all else that gives Coma Ecliptic the theatrical and grandiose quality of a rock opera that was missing from Future Sequence, and puts it into the league of classic albums of progressive rock and metal. Of course, this does come with the loss of the beat for beat technicality of past albums, but the band have already proven themselves in that regard, and the new approach allows the band to adopt a more theatrical essence; it evokes the rhythm and feel of classic progressive rock bands like Rush and Pink Floyd – without aping them, or losing what is their own distinct identity but all wrapped together in this modern sheen of metal-dom.
Seeing as the band are calling this their rock opera, this approach and these influences make so much sense, and it’s a rewarding feeling to hear the band progress in such a way that hearkens back to these hugely innovative bands, and still produce a groundbreaking piece of work such as this.
The focus on composition, and the more gratifying ebb and flow of the structure brings about another cool dynamic; the shorter moments and songs have a bigger importance to them. Since BTBAM have so many long, epic songs, the smaller moments often get overshadowed by the epic or grandiose sections, where all the moving parts are juggling about, and the bigger picture becomes more important than the nuances – but with Coma Ecliptic, you get these nice breaks that actually add to the experience such as “Dim Ignition“, “Life in Velvet” or even just the weird passages on the ‘epic’ songs. They don’t just pop up and disappear in the blink of an eye like they would have on Colors or The Great Misdirect, and they’re not just substance-less interludes like several tracks from Future Sequence; they hold a purpose that adds to the overall package, and it’s just another aspect of this album that shows the maturity and growth of this band.
Over the years there have been a lot of artists that have grabbed the attention of the metal world and promised to usher in an era of groundbreaking progressive metal, but one by one they’ve all just fallen to pieces and cuddled into their respective comfort zones, but luckily for those who are constantly wanting to be pushed and challenged by the music they listen to, Between The Buried and Me aren’t content to just push out carbon copies and pale imitations of their most successful works. They strive to make a distinct name and feel for each album. It doesn’t always pay off, and they’re surely to lose one section of their fanbase or another as the years go on, but as long as they never bat an eye at the scary word of “experimentation”, they’ll keep climbing that ladder of success, and achieve greatness. Case in point: Coma Ecliptic.