Layers on layers7/22/2015
If you allow for the possibility that a metal band can be a “band’s band,” i.e., one of those acts that does all the little technical things that only other musicians really appreciate, then Between the Buried and Me is a band’s band.
Formed 15 years ago in North Carolina, Between the Buried and Me is a prog metal act that loves to experiment with its sound in ways that few others dare. Listening to one of its albums is a lot like reading a book by Umberto Eco or watching a Guillermo del Toro film — there is something new to discover with each new pass.
To that end, while the band has dabbled in odd time signatures and chord progressions, it has also become increasingly narrative in its music making. The band’s last two releases, the 2011 EP “The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues” and its full-length 2012 follow up “The Parallax II: Future Sequence,” were proto-concept albums featuring a clear thread of thought that carried through a series of more or less disparate songs. But with this summer’s release of “Coma Ecliptic,” the band has jumped into the concept album waters with both feet.
“We decided before we ever started writing the music,” explained guitarist Paul Waggoner. “We wanted to do the concept thing and felt that with the last few records, we were sort of going down that route. We decided that we wanted to do an album that was not only musically conceptual, but we also wanted to have it be a story. So (frontman Tommy Rogers) came up with a vague outline, and once we started coming up with the music that reflected that story, it all came together well.”
The most obvious change from previous albums that long-time fans will notice is up front. By trying to tell an actual story through the songs, it forces the lyrics into a place of higher importance. For Between the Buried and Me, a higher need for clear lyrics meant an increased dependence upon clean vocals from Rogers.
“I think that it was largely about context,” Waggoner said of the album’s vocals. “I think Tommy’s pretty stoked, because I think he enjoys the more melodic sound.
“I don’t know if it was a conscious plan, but I think that once we started writing the music, and it started taking a less aggressive and less guitar-centric course than it had been in the past, I think it was apparent that it was going to require clean vocals. And Tommy was up to that challenge.”
“Coma Ecliptic” is a bold step for the band, and it may not be one that always works. “Coma Ecliptic” is, at times, chaotic and uneven, but the narrative that runs through it remains clear and strong. Still, even for a band as renowned for its experimental sound as this one is, any large-scale change to its sound is a gamble. The band has never been able to rely on radio play, so it has to make changes and hope the core audience will follow along. So far, it is a strategy that has worked for more than a decade.
“We’ve been doing this for 15 years, and we’re still on this upward trend,” Waggoner concurred. “We’ve carved out this niche doing what we do, and we see ourselves as a sort of experimental heavy metal band, and that doesn’t play well on the radio. Trying to get on the radio now just to be there would probably backfire, because our audience respects us more than that.” CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.