Artist: Between The Buried And Me
Album Title: Coma Ecliptic
Label: Metal Blade
Year Of Release: 2015
I may just be the only progressive music fan that has come to this band so late and via a complete fluke. Had it not been for Haken scoring the support slot for an upcoming Between The Buried And Me tour, I probably would still be none the wiser about the American band. So many people wax lyrical about Between The Buried And Me and the influence that they have had on their career and yet, for someone so entrenched in the pro scene, I’d never given them a listen. I’d never even given them a second thought if I’m honest; something about the band moniker had foolishly led me to think that they were more of a metalcore band or some such and I’d dismissed them, never to explore further. Never let it be said that I’m not 100% honest.
But when the likes of Haken, Abnormal Thought Patterns and Native Construct have all name-dropped Between The Buried And Me in one way or another recently, I felt compelled to find out more. And what better way than with a brand new album? Having had ‘Coma Ecliptic’, their seventh release, in my life for a few weeks, I will admit to a certain amount of embarrassment and a sense that I could kick myself for not exploring this band sooner. 2015 must be the year for it, as this is not the first time I’ve delved into the world of a band with whom I’ve never previously been interested only to be very pleasantly surprised.
At this early point in proceedings, I must apologise to all concerned that this review has taken so long to see the light of day. It had been my intention to publish it prior to the release. However, such is the sheer breadth and ambitious scope of ‘Coma Ecliptic’ that it has taken me this long to finally get to grips with the record to the point that I felt I could write something worthwhile and meaningful about it.
Having never really listened to Between The Buried And Me before, I’m unable to really contextualise the content in terms of how it fits with previous recordings. However, from what I can gather from the comments of others, it would appear to be unmistakeably Between The Buried And Me and yet just a little different, mainly in terms of it’s overall extremity. Does that help? No? Ok, let me continue…
Firstly, ‘Coma Ecliptic’ is a concept album. Put as succinctly as I can, it centres on a man who finds himself in a coma, with each track acting as a chapter of his journey through his past lives. Needless to say that such an ambitious concept story requires the music to match and that’s where Tommy Rogers (vocals), Paul Waggoner (guitars), Dustie Waring (guitars), Blake Richardson (drums) and Dan Briggs (bass, keyboards) have undoubtedly succeeded. There’s nothing simple or straight-forward about this record and yet, for all its complexity, it feels strangely engaging and relatively accessible. Of course, the accessibility will depend on how much time and attention you give it, but even a cursory listen can be rewarding should that be your approach.
The album opens with ‘Node’, a quiet and understated introduction into an hour-long album that is anything but understated or quiet. A simple keyboard melody is surruptisiosly built upon until it explodes with the pomp and circumstance of a full-on heavy metal opera. Indeed, follow-up ‘Coma Machine’ continues the theme, reminding me of the art-rock stylings of A.C.T. et al as it comes racing out of the speakers on the crest of a wave. The piano and heavy, chunky guitar riffs work in tandem with aplomb before the track sets out to cover as many different musical influences as possible. There’s a demonstrable 70s prog influence for sure but it is blended very expertly with a myriad of more modern stylings, from straight-up progressive metal, through to a touch of metalcore and alt rock, meaning that it pays homage to the past but remains current and relevant in today’s ever-demanding music world.
However, for me, there are two main ingredients that are worthy of further extrapolation; the vocals and the drums. The vocals of Tommy Rogers are nothing short of brilliant and catch the ears immediately flitting as he does from a clean melodious approach to all-out death metal scream. The drums courtesy of Blake Richardson are also sensational. I love the sound of them within the mix as they’re nothing short of thunderous but its the technique and ambition of the playing that’s impressive in the extreme.
Returning to the compositions themselves and ‘Dim Ignition’ is another example of the experimentation on display on ‘Coma Ecliptic’. It is oddly compelling in spite of its electronica, synth-pop veneer. ‘King Redeem – Queen Serene’ on the other hand is a behemoth of a track that, to my ears, acts as a seven-minute microcosm of what this album and what Between The Buried And Me circa 2015 are all about. It is heavy and complex but is underpinned by genuine subtlety and some really nice, immediate melodies that have become lodged in my head. The million-and-one ideas and influences may threaten to test the listeners’ open-mindedness but in actuality, such is the utter conviction and song-writing skill of this group of musicians, the song feels smooth and a joy to listen to throughout.
The remainder of the album continues in a similarly ambitious vein and in so doing, continues to ensnare me with its abundant charms. ‘Turn On The Darkness’ has more of a hard rock feel to it, benefitting from yet more great hooks and a wonderfully melodic instrumental section at the midway point. ‘The Ectopic Stroll’ is a quirky and schizophrenic beast that I liken to Haken’s ‘Cockroach King’ that takes time to reveal its full charms, ‘Rapid Calm’ is a sprawling epic that generally dials down the speed but which is big on intensity and ‘Memory Palace’, which delights from beginning to end. Within its near ten minute length, it covers everything from classic rock to jazz, prog, death metal and even acoustic rock with a few more curveballs thrown in for good measure.
The album then closes with ‘Life In Velvet’ an uplifting and utterly glorious composition that reintroduces the rock opera influences, ties everything together and ends on a genuinely spinetingling and euphoric crescendo dominated by those thunderous drums as well as some really expressive and emotive lead guitar work. What a way to end.
‘Coma Ecliptic’ is one of those albums that simply has to be heard to be believed. Full of drama, intelligent song writing and a willingness to experiment and take risks, Between The Buried And Me have gone from being a band I know nothing about to a band that I must have in my life. And all because of the strength of this one album. Yes, ‘Coma Ecliptic’ is that good.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0
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Kamelot – Haven
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Sigh – Graveward
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Klone – Here Comes The Sun
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Enslaved – In Times
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The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
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AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
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Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
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James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld