The seeds of this record were sown a long time ago. Just go and take a look at the tracklisting of The Anatomy Of. The choices of songs are wildly varied to the point of incongruity, and almost seem as if the band’s influences were too disparate to resolve – it felt like a fair assumption that the cover-versions on here were picked by individuals and made to fit, however awkwardly. The fairly straight reading of Metallica‘s ‘Blackened’ (the odd blastbeat and more guttural vocals aside, it’s practically note-for-note) sits a bit uneasily next to the Counting Crows and Depeche Mode songs, and the version of ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ threw me for a loop – I was expecting a more aggressive take on the King Crimson classic!
What it did though, was prepare BTBAM fans for what many people still consider their best work. 2007′s Colors was a breathtaking maelstrom of death metal, bluegrass, jazz, acoustic balladry and arena rock and instantly catapulted the band into the progressive metal elite. The followup (and for a long time my personal favourite) The Great Misdirect refined and expanded on this, and closes with the 18-minute masterpiece ‘Swim To The Moon’ – neo-classical riffing smashes headlong into blasting death metal, AOR choruses filter through the madness, we get a blast of Jon Lord-esque keyboard freakout, and there’s even a tribute to Neil Peart’s big-band style drum solos thrown in. So it was kind of inevitable that they’d get round to a concept album, right?
Well yes. And then some. The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues came out in April last year (and I wrote about it here) and brought us the first part of a frankly mind-boggling tale of two entities that exist on separate planes of reality that become subconsciously aware of each other. I wondered in that review where the band could and would go next – the EP felt a little like they were treading water, and I hoped that the album proper would reveal something new. It’s certainly done that.
The Parallax II: Future Sequence is already out at the time I write this, meaning most of you will have heard it already so nothing I say from this point on should come as TOO much of a surprise. Some of those early seeds have taken root and finally sprouted fully – the Pink Floyd influence is displayed immediately with ‘Goodbye To Everything’ and there’s a strong flavour of David Gilmour to the spacey solo during ‘Telos’, for example. There’s a return to the Colors approach of presenting the entire album as one piece of music, with smooth segues between movements easing transitions between tracks and making the music fit better with the more stream-of-consciousness lyrical style that’s been adopted.
The main thing that struck me was that the whole thing is more open. The production, the writing, the arrangements – there’s space here that wasn’t evident before, and this highlights the improvement in every area of this set of performances. Tommy Rogers, in particular, gives a fantastic account of himself, with his clean vocals displaying a massive step up in range, clarity and projection and his more brutal stuff having even sharper rhythmic nous and breadth of technique than he’s shown previously.
The whole band is on spectacular form throughout though – the drunken, woozy waltz section in ‘Lay Your Ghosts To Rest’ is an early highlight of a record that contains so many “WOW!” moments that it’s genuinely difficult to take the whole thing in properly without repeated listens. ‘Bloom’ revels in taking Beach Boys vocal harmonies to Mr Bungle‘s warped circus music, but this is just an appetiser for probably the best 25 minutes of music Between The Buried And Me have ever written. The pairing of ‘Melting City’ and ‘Silent Flight Parliament’ is inspired – melancholic flutes lead into jazz-fusion lead guitars, with the buildup out of the first track causing a sensation of weightlessness as the drums and guitars drop away to leave almost silence, before the second track’s pounding intro smashes away the reflective air.
It’s fifteen minutes and some change, that second track – not the longest song they’ve ever written, granted, but knocking on the door. It’s genuinely packed with amazing, dizzying skill, not just instrumental but of the songwriting kind too – the first five minutes just melts away under a constantly-shifting barrage of twisting, turning riffs, then the next five minutes gets reflective and melancholic until the coup-de-grace. A full five minutes of prog-metal genius – epic build-and-release, callbacks to earlier sections, genuine restraint exercised when it all starts to get too much and then, well… the intro riff returns as the battering, emotionally-loaded coda, tying up all the loose ends and segueing into a spacey reprise of the very first track.
The question I’ve been asked a lot is this: “Is it better than Colors?” and I’ve been giving much the same answer to everyone that’s asked it. Yes, it’s better than Colors. It is, in fact, better than anything else I’ve heard this year by a substantial margin – I’ve played it every day since I got it and it never fails to make me fall in love with it all over again every single time. If you’re a fan, you’ll doubtless have already ordered some insane pre-order package with a spacesuit or whatever other madness – if you’re not, this may be the record to change your opinion.