The defining moment of The Silent Circus, the second album by Between the Buried and Me, occurs two and a half minutes into the fourth track, “Mordecai”. Over the course of the 15 minutes leading up to that moment, the Raleigh, North Carolina, band had sliced and diced its way through multiple extreme metal subgenres, bridging the “math metal” complexity of the Dillinger Escape Plan, the godly hardcore of Converge, the furious technical death metal of Nile, and the more melodic strains of mid-‘90s Swedish death metal with astonishing dexterity. While the cohesion of the three songs is undeniable, by the time “Mordecai” starts the feeling that this just might be an exercise in technical wankery and little else begins to creep into the back of our minds.
Indeed, the beginning of “Mordecai” does sound somewhat rote at first, the kind of workmanlike technical death metal we’ve come to expect from such reliable bands as Suffocation and Misery Index. Then, at the 35-second mark, the first twist in the mix occurs, a wonky little five-second interlude that sounds swiped from Steve Vai-era Frank Zappa, segueing into a relentless second section that matches Dillinger step for step, which in turn leads into a brief melodic death groove. Suddenly, the bottom falls out, the guitars sound clean instead of distorted, and vocalist Tommy Rogers begins singing in a Thom Yorke-style falsetto. Keyboards creep in, heavy chords enter the fray, and before you can say “metalcore power ballad”, the song careens skyward, propelled by Rogers’ emotive (but not emo) singing and the sumptuous lead guitar of Paul Waggoner. It’s an absolutely stunning transition from brutality to tenderness that leaves listeners at a loss for words, and most brilliantly, nowhere in the song do any of the stylistic shifts sound the least bit arbitrary.
Originally released in 2003, The Silent Circus is one of those albums, like Dillinger’s Calculating Infinity and Meshuggah’s Nothing, that needed some time to allow audiences to grasp the intricate insanity displayed on record, and now, more than three years later, more and more people are starting to “get” this band, as Between the Buried and Me, whose subsequent releases have included the even more daring Alaska and last year’s startlingly versatile covers disc The Anatomy of…, are now one of the most highly-regarded young metal acts in America today. So it’s rather fitting that Victory Records puts its always-shrewd marketing skills to good use, pumping out a swanky deluxe reissue of that pivotal second album, as not only does it let the Chicago-based label cash in on the completist BTBAM fans out there, but it also serves as a reminder of just how fresh this record still sounds today.
The opening salvo of the two-part “Lost Perfection” is massive technical metalcore, loaded with sly little turns, from the subtlest hints of mellow Opeth, to jazz fusion (especially noticeable in the bass work of Kevin Falk), to stoner/doom metal, to an instant of sheer audacity, as when the song immediately comes to a screeching halt, giving way to an inexplicable three-measure clap-along drum beat that sounds lifted from a Weezer album before returning to the madness at hand, as Rogers spews fascinating stream-of-consciousness lyrics that touch on the boredom of life on the road. After a tongue-in-cheek techno fake-out, the blunt anti-Bush diatribe “Destructo Spin” settles in for a combination of crushing death metal and swirling black metal, Terry Jason Roe’s blast beats holding the entire composition intact, while an undeniable King Crimson influence dominates the intro of “Aesthetic”.
The four-song stretch in the album’s middle, starting with “Mordecai”, remains the disc’s high point. As “Mordecai” fades out so beautifully, the ambient strains of “Reaction” settle in, Rogers crooning softly over his airy synths, sounding inspired by Sigur Ros. “(Shevanel Part 2)” is disarmingly straightforward, at first resembling a sappy emo ballad, but the repeated use of minor tones gives the tune a decidedly Pink Floyd-esque air. The epic “Ad a dglgmut” gives us the album’s climactic moment, embodying everything the album offers: furious blastbeats, riffs that alternately crunch and squeal, wild time signature changes, and a drop-dead gorgeous melodic interlude. Rogers is at his most inspired here, spending the first couple minutes spewing guttural nonsense over the cacophony, then lampooning his own craft, hollering, “Scream, loud, loud, loud!” Rogers’s message is made clear as the song shifts into its lovely mellow breakdown, as he sings, “It all makes sense / We’re capable of beauty / Through sounds which make one cringe.”
Accompanied by a nifty DVD that contains a six-song live set recorded in 2005, a rather goofy interview, and the video for “Mordecai”, this reissue of The Silent Circus does manage to give the kids bang for their buck, and for those who don’t yet own the album, this is the perfect way to go. Between the Buried and Me is so ridiculously talented, they could go off in any musical direction right now and nobody would be surprised, but for now, this second chapter of what has become one of the most compelling creative runs by any band in the last five years remains good enough to keep revisiting until the next album comes out.