We at Heavy Blog love concept albums. There’s something special and thought-provoking when a band is able to communicate a good story through music and lyrics, and it’s a phenomenon that seems to be most prevalent in progressive rock and metal, which just so happens to be our main collective genre of interest. *prognotes is a play on the idea of *sparknotes, a website that aims to help readers understand the context and story of books. We’ve always wanted to highlight and detail the stories of our favorite concept albums, and we’ve finally gotten around to doing just that. Have a suggestion for an album you’d like us to cover? Let us know! – Ed.
In anticipation of their upcoming concept album The Parallax II: Future Sequence, it’s important to take a look at the story that North Carolina-based progressive metal band Between the Buried and Me have told us so far to prime us for the story that is about to unfold. The series’ introduction came last year in the form of The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues and tells of two different characters — the two ‘Prospects’ — who live on two separate planes of existence, yet we come to find that the two are living very similar lives and going through very similar struggles. Throughout the course of Hypersleep Dialogues, our two Prospects are becoming aware of the others’ existence, and are set to finally meet during a pivotal moment when Future Sequence drops this October. Fans of progressive metal and concept records are decidedly stoked. What follows is a fairly in-depth explanation and theory regarding the events leading up to The Parallax II.
I don’t want to give too much away, but in the first part of the two-part “mini-series”, we’re introduced to two characters that live in two totally different planes of existence. Separated by billions of light-years and planets, they’re both faced with personal dilemmas to confront and reckon with. On this first one, they become aware of the other’s presence in the universe in a weird way. That’s really what the EP is about; these two guys confronting their problems, and at the same time, through some sort of weird cosmic energy, they’re able to subconsciously become aware of the other person.
– Paul Waggoner, guitar [via Metal Insider]
Let’s look into the title of the record, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, and why it is significant to the story. Wikipedia’s defines a parallax as “a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.” When you look in a mirror, an object may be in a different position in its reflection than it is in your line of sight. Both objects are in different positions from your point of view, but they are the same objects. This may be a metaphor for our two Prospects and their relation to one another. Although, this was never elaborated upon by the band.
Again citing Wikipedia (we’re a blog, not a linguist society), Hypersleep refers to a state of stasis, which “denotes the suspension of passage of time” by biological means. The lyrics often reference being asleep and drifting in and out of consciousness, and when one is asleep, hours can seem like mere moments — or vice versa. Through this hypersleep, our two Prospects may be able to become aware of each other. More on this will be elaborated upon later in the story.
What makes The Parallax so exceptionally fascinating is that fans of Between the Buried and Me were familiar with the two Prospects whether they know it or not. Prospects A and B were previously introduced in the band’s past work, reaching back into lyrics from three different albums. This is where the story gets thought provoking, abstract, and a bit convoluted. Let’s unravel this thread and start from the beginning of our characters’ origins:
Meet Prospect 1: ‘Swim To The Moon‘ (2009, The Great Misdirect)
“…the EP actually picks up where “Swim to the Moon” left off to end The Great Misdirect. That story was basically about this guy who gets fed up with life and decides to go off on this suicidal trip where he just drifts off to sea to die and that song kind of ends there.”
– Paul Waggoner [via Teeth of the Divine]
“It’s kind of an awakening. This story doesn’t have an ending, yet maybe. I kind of left it open-ended in case I wanted to touch on it at some other point. It’s about a businessman who needs something new in his life. He goes to the sea and basically floats and sees where it takes him. It gets him in a lot of trouble. It’s kind of like “Sun of Nothing.” It’s his thought process evaluating everything he’s done and everything he wants to do, what’s important and what’s not important. Because I think those are the kinds of things that I personally over the last few years have kind of looked into. There’s so much shit that people worry about that really doesn’t matter. There are only certain things that really make an impact on your life and others and I guess those stories are about figuring out what I need in my life.”
– Tommy Rogers, vocals/keys [via White Noise Metal]
Prospect 1 is introduced as the character in the band’s longest song to date, the epic ‘Swim to the Moon.’ The song depicts a character who is lonely and has apparently had enough with the stresses of life, possibly depressed, anxious, and filled with regret. At the very least, Prospect 1 has grown restless. He ultimately comes to the conclusion that he needs to get away from it all, taking comfort in the phrase “Swim to the Moon.” Perhaps depicting an attempt to swim in the direction of the moon on the horizon or towards the moon’s reflection in a body water, the song details his struggle and thought process as he ‘drifts out to sea.’ He seems to eventually take peace in his journey as he faces what he thinks are his final moments:
“This is what I lived to be. This very moment is the first time in my life that I’ve felt pure joy.”
– ‘Swim to the Moon’
However, as far as we’re lead to believe, Prospect 1 was unsuccessful at ending his life, as we’ll see later.
Meet Prospect 2: ‘Prequel to the Sequel‘ (2007, Colors) and ‘Lost Perfection’ (2003, The Silent Circus)
This is where the story gets even more confusing. Fans of Between the Buried and Me will sometimes notice in the liner notes and album lyrics that there are often lines that are not vocally sung on the album that were either lyrics that didn’t make the full cut due to the song’s phrasing or to help the listener better understand the meaning of the lyrics. Such is the case in The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues during ‘Lunar Wilderness’ when the following unsung lyrics are presented:
An out of focus picture brings up a familiar scenario. Three people fill the room. There seems to be a fourth, but very small. We are speaking about some sort of mission. My mouth won’t stop moving… talking way too much. Even through the blur I can feel their stares. This one sided discussion seems to be about what I am preventing. Is this a sign? Too late… I’ve said it before. The people then disappear. I look about and the western sky seems to be red… alone. I can smell burning flesh… scorched life. I turn around and the face of death stares so grim that the lids finally open…
– ‘Lunar Wilderness‘
This is a bit of a plot twist of sorts for those who enjoy to read along with the lyrics, as we discover that Prospect 2 is the man who ‘talks too much’ from ‘Lost Perfection A) Coulrophobia.‘ Before we delve into that story though, we must go forward so we can rewind; four years after ‘Lost Perfection’ was released, the band expanded upon the story in the track ‘Prequel to the Sequel,’ which is (obviously) the prequel that details a poetic metaphor for the end of the world:
The headless lover of three… an unspeakable affair…
Trees soon started to grow from what seemed a lifeless neck…
From a monster to a beauty in quick months…
its life seemed to be on its way to a rare freedom.
It decided it should take advantage of this ideaThis started to catch the attention of the unbranched…
It had never experienced an affection of this kind…Years went by as it finally found true love…
the love of others…three to be exact.
Letting them into every secret…feeding from every branch…
(This went on with no negative scents ’til the 5th year came around…)
It noticed its walking seemed more staggered than normal.
The breeze didn’t flow like it used to…
the heart seemed to pound slower and slower…
What caused this?It soon was noticed that these three had torn every branch, every single stem…
torn to its last life…
how hadn’t it noticed a drastic change in the surroundings…
It didn’t think anything could go this wrong.It thought life was constant happiness if constant happiness was all that was given out.
(If left its entire existence up to these three lovers)
Hints and all, they did as they pleased…
and now it’s starting to wilt away.(They will see this LOST PERFECTION. It will come back around…will the newborn live to tell this story? Rewind.)
– ‘Prequel to the Sequel’
Three lovers (which is important detail that connects these stories together) took advantage of this beautiful walking tree until it had nothing left to give, eventually wilting away. This is a clear metaphor for how we’re all destroying our planet, an important theme going forward for the Parallax concept and harkens back to ‘Lost Perfection,’ where the three lovers are in a room discussing the end of the world, as seen from the newborn infant’s point of view. The story retroactively picks up where ‘Prequel to the Sequel‘ left off.
This party of four includes three grown adults and myself.
The first adult is shy and wise enough,
To keep the second one away from conversation.
They’re on a mission.
Gender is not recognized.
The third adult is a male and talks too much.
The stench of shit is in the air.
The room storms with laughter.
Four turns to a hundred and the noise is unbearable.
“It’s time, you are in hell, this place will kill itself soon!”
I cry, and the hands surround me.
Born into a hell, never wake to this.
I have experienced nothing,
Yet I fell the only one who has not done harm.
If only I could understand how to change things.
I can’t fucking think.
The noise is unbearable.
The noise stops.– ‘Lost Perfection A) Coulrophobia’
Clowns now appear.
They’re carrying knives and cups of gasoline.
“Tonight is our death.” then begin to slash each other.
The skies open up, the flames pour in.
The world watched in awe.
Death is in the air.
The three adults once again start talking.
They ask questions of faith and love.
“We shall live past these days, rid of all we’ve done.”
I see what they mean now,
But the wretched smell has overcome, I am gone…
The baby born with the end of the world.
Awake… Awake… Awake… Awake…– Lost Perfection B) Anablephobia
So it is established that Prospect 2 is one of the three lovers who took advantage of life, and now his home planet is either destroyed or on the brink of destruction. He is currently on a mission, which can be concluded that we currently find him on the way to Earth, a similar planet as his home planet which may be facing the same fate. Speaking on this concept, Paul explains:
“The basic theme is humanity, a sort of domination and destruction of the planet. The idea that we’re trying to explore is that there is a race like ours on Earth that has probably already happened somewhere in the universe. And the idea is that we’re probably going to destroy this planet someday. The story is these two guys and how they can put their minds together to solve this problem, or not.”
– Paul Waggoner [via Metal Insider]
Now that the story leading up to The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues has been established, we can now examine the events that actually take place during the EP’s runtime.
So, to recap, before The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues even takes place, Prospect 1 is floating out at sea while expecting to die and Prospect 2 is facing a mission of sorts brought about by the end of his home planet. There are recurring themes and lyrics present throughout the whole story — including mirrors/reflections, silence (a lyrical throwback to ‘Lost Perfection’), and drifting in and out of sleep and/or consciousness (a lyrical throwback to ‘Swim to the Moon’) — that may be of importance. As the EP is meant to be a brief introduction that sets the stage for the full-length story to come, Hypersleep Dialogues is an almost stream-of-conscious telling of the struggles that the two Prospects are going through as they both come to reality with the situations they were thrust into.
Next time, we’ll take a look at these events that are happening in The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. Prospects A and B will soon become aware of each other, and the fate of humanity will soon be looming on our two Prospects.