Music

Between the Buried and Me: The Silent Circus

The progressive metal band's pivotal second album gets the reissue treatment.


Between the Buried and Me

The Silent Circus

Label: Victory
US Release Date: 2006-10-03
UK Release Date: 2006-10-09
Amazon
iTunes

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.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image