Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Album Review: Between The Buried And Me - Coma Ecliptic

There are always bands that, for whatever reason, I have trouble getting into. We can't all be fans of everything, but when I hear the near universal praise and can barely muster a 'meh', it leads me to wonder what I'm missing out on. One of the problems with being a bit obsessive as a music fan is wanting to hear everything great, which means that I've given bands I don't like more chances than I should have, just because everyone else says they're great. Between The buried And Me is one of those bands, a progressive metal outfit that writes the most stilted, structureless songs that mix the worst of prog with boring death metal. And yet, here I sit reviewing yet another of their albums. Why?

The answer to that lies in the first single to the record, which was intriguing enough to make me give the album a shot. It looked as though the band was going to be toning down the death metal and playing more with traditional prog metal, and that was something I wanted to hear for myself.

"Node" is a strange opening for a Between The Buried And Me record, three minutes of pianos and swirling vocals. The song is setting up the remainder of the concept, but beginning with a ballad that erupts in a pure Dream Theater guitar run is not what most people would be expecting. Nor is the bouncy piano that sits in the back of the mix of "The Coma Machine", another example of how the band is embracing more of the traditional sound of prog metal. It's well over five minutes into the record before the growled vocals come in, and even then they're only around for a few lines before the song moves on to something else.

My greatest complaint about Between The Buried And Me persists on this record, a form of songwriting that doesn't bother trying to logically move from one place to another. Often, these songs sound like various ideas thrown together because there was nowhere else to put them. While that can occasionally result in compelling music, the scatter-shot nature of everything the band does gets annoying after a while. Their music is like a sketch comedy show that didn't bother finishing one scene before characters from the next come on stage.

I do get the impression, though, that the band is at least trying to more fully integrate their pieces together. The curve-balls aren't as wild as they have been before, and the album has a central sound that everything works off of, something to tether the fleeting tangents.

I get the impression that a lot of fans will be unhappy with this turn of events, because the core of this record is not death metal. At its heart, "Coma Ecliptic" is a prog record, bringing out heavy doses of Dream Theater and Rush. Tommy sings clean for a large portion of the record, which is a move I think plays well. The vocal lines he's able to come up with when not growling are far more interesting to the compositions than anything his harsh voice would be able to do.

With my complaint noted, let's get to the crux of the album; the music. While it is still a bit scatter-shot for my tastes, this is easily the best I've heard from the band. The slight streamlining of the sound has allowed them to focus on making every moment more memorable, and there are plenty of them here that are truly great bits of music. "Memory Palace" remains the highlight, for me, the best song I've yet heard from the band. But there are plenty of other times, from "The Coma Machine" and "Famine Wolf" that follow suit, sticking out immediately.

I still don't know just how much staying power an album like this can have, but Between The buried And Me is certainly moving in the right direction here. "Coma Ecliptic" is a more traditional album, it is true, but it's also one that shows the band growing into themselves as songwriters. By toning down their more extreme elements, they may be angering some of their fans, but they have given themselves a wider palate of sounds and feelings to work with. There's nothing more progressive than shattering the expectations of your listeners, and the band has done that here.

I may not be spinning this regularly for the foreseeable future, but Between The Buried And Me has made a good record here, and they've earned a lot more respect from me.

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