[21 April 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When a band breaks as much new ground in as short a span as between the Buried and Me did between 2003 and 2007, the expectations from audiences seem to grow exponentially. Some bands work best within a set musical template, but others, like the North Carolina quintet, absolutely thrive when they’re in full experimentation mode, as albums like 2005’s Alaska and 2007’s Colors were thrilling displays of just how prodigious these progressive metal youngsters can be. Two years ago, the follow-up The Great Misdirect toned down the insanity just enough to have audiences wondering if Beween the Buried and Me was starting to sound just the tiniest bit predictable, but the songs were strong enough to assuage fears that the band was in any sort of creative rut.
After a swift, highly ambitious formative period, though, you can’t blame a band for settling down a little, contentedly remaining in the niche they created for themselves. The Dillinger Escape Plan did just that on last year’s Option Paralysis, which ditched all the genre-blurring experimentation in favor of, well, making songs that sounded like people expected the Dillinger Escape Plan to sound like. Not that there was anything wrong with that – the album was anything but boring – but it was a far cry from the mind-blowing Ire Works from a few years prior.
With a new record deal with Metal Blade after years spent at Victory, Between the Buried and Me seems to find itself in a similar situation. Whether you want to call it an album or a rather long EP, the three song, 33 minute The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues sees the band in a same comfort zone as their peers in Dillinger. In other words, there’s nothing at all new they’re doing here, but what matters most is just how fresh they can make this new material sound, predictable as it all may feel.
So it comes as very good news that the eleven minute-plus “Specular Reflection” kicks off the new record with the band sounding in peak form. Starting off with a mélange of piano, brass, and strings that echoes classical composers Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti, the song erupts into a ferocious death metal passage that quickly segues into a series of noisecore riffs nicked from the Botch playbook. It’s quintessential Between the Buried and Me, vocalist Tommy Rogers alternating from roars to cleanly sung passages atop the labyrinthine composition. What elevates the track, though, is the band’s use of tension, something they’ve never quite mastered until now. By loosening and tightening their grip on the arrangements, knowing exactly when to hold back, “Specular Reflection” takes on a Tool-like vibe, culminating in an enthralling mid-song movement reminiscent of Ænima. Psychotic BTBAM is always fun to hear, but understated BTBAM proves to sound just as exciting, and the ride “Specular Reflection” takes listeners on is enormously fun. It’s the band’s best moment since “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” six years ago.
Oddly, the other two songs on the record don’t quite measure up to the superb opening cut. “Augment of Rebirth” attempts to push the same buttons as the opening track, but that all-important hook, something that’s come so easily to the band for years, just isn’t there as the song shifts to cabaret-derived oompah and animal noises in an attempt to make it semi-memorable. Although the riffing by guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring is as tight as ever, it all goes for naught because the song goes nowhere. “Lunar Wilderness” is a slight improvement, the arrangement, complicated as it is, making enough room to let melodies to creep sporadically into the mix. And at the very least, once again the band puts its skill at song dynamics to use to good effect.
The slight inconsistency of The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues is enough to convince listeners that if this were a proper album and not merely a stopgap release to satiate the fans, the overall quality of the material would be stepped up considerably. Yours truly would highly recommend purchasing only “Specular Reflection” on iTunes, but cunningly, Metal Blade has only made it available if you buy the entire EP, and paying full price for one great song and two half-decent ones is a lot harder to justify. It’s not a total waste of your cash, but for the casual listener, be sure to sample it before you buy.