This troupe from North Carolina has managed to hit all the right prog-rock targets with music that has sweep, depth, and texture while avoiding pretension.
By Scott McLennan
Between the Buried and Me has been the underdog of prog rock throughout its career, which is rounding the 15-year mark with Coma Ecliptic, the band’s 7th full-length studio album.
Perhaps that’s the price BTBAM pays for not getting caught up with — or burdened by — the notion of “big statement” rock. This troupe from North Carolina has managed to hit all the right progressive-rock targets with music that has sweep, depth, and texture while avoiding pretension — prog’s biggest pitfall.
Coma Ecliptic, out July 7 on Metal Blade Records, confirms that BTBAM is in the same league as those bands that more commonly get held up as the modern standard bearers of prog: Porcupine Tree, Tool, Opeth, Mars Volta, Coheed & Cambria.
BTBAM spent its formative years (and remains a heavyweight champ) in the underground metal scene. That grimy, thunderous sound remains in the band’s mix, just not in as pronounced a way as it did back on its earlier career peaks, such as the Alaska album from a decade ago. BTBAM has not shed its metal, but every album and tour has been a step forward in expanding the band’s sonic spectrum and songwriting style. Among the group’s creative strengths is its skill at making each project distinctive but also unmistakably BTBAM.
On Coma Ecliptic, songs follow a narrative arc concerning the thoughts and fantasies running through the mind of a man in a coma. Even though each song revels in the frictions generated by stylistic counterpoints and collisions, the writing and delivery here are comparatively streamlined given what was offered on this project’s predecessor, The Parallax II: Future Sequence.
BTBAM sprawls out within songs, but the 11 tracks here march by in an efficient 68 minutes. Billed as a “rock opera,” Coma Ecliptic mercifully doesn’t have any toss-off fluff added solely for atmospherics and connective tissue. That’s a testament to the band’s to-the-point editing and arranging skills.
Keyboard player and singer Tommy Rogers masterfully sets and shifts moods. Rogers’ piano lines draw out the dreamscape quality on “Node”; the synth part on “Dim Ignition” epitomizes the tune’s futureshock theme; his funeral tone and pacing summon storm clouds on “Turn on the Darkness”; and the manic piano runs on “The Ectopic Stroll” whip up the tune’s turbulent madness.
Rogers is equally flexible as a vocalist, capably handling the yearning melodic swells as well as barking out the throat-shredding scabby horrors.
So if Rogers is the ringleader of this circus, the remaining members of BTBAM step up as the daredevils and freaks. Drummer Blake Richardson, guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring and bass player Dan Briggs balance calculated precision and free-flying fervor. Even though the band works through complicated maneuvers, there’s never any overly fussy attitude about execution. These dudes are having a good time — no doubt one of the reasons behind BTBAM’s ability to resist prog’s habitual yen to create something more than smart rock ’n’ roll.
No one song on Coma Ecliptic is simply one thing. Each song is multifaceted and fits into a larger, cohesive piece. BTBAM pulls off the intricate sonic architecture so well that it’s not really a concern that the narrative stays in very familiar grooves for anyone who pumped the music of Pink Floyd, Rush and old Genesis into a set of headphones.
BTBAM carves fresh, vivid imagery from familiar prog themes of alienation, man versus machine, and the problematic nature of freewill. Consider Coma Ecliptic an excursion into customary territory, but a step that allows for some unbridled head banging.
Between the Buried and Me will next be performing in the Boston area on Aug. 12 at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, RI.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.