With the release of their celebrated 2008 release Colors Live — wherein the band performed what many still consider to be their magnum opus Colors in its entirety — North Carolina’s progressive metal trendsetters Between the Buried and Me set in place the expectation of a “full experience” when it comes to albums and their impending touring cycles. It is now no longer as acceptable in the metal realm for a record to be a mere collection of songs; an album needs to be a holistic experience with recurring themes, motifs, and emotions. Of course, BTBAM weren’t the first band to take to performing full albums during live shows — prog rock bands have been doing that for decades — but they did reinvigorate a movement of technical showmanship, conceptual songwriting, and consistent live performances that permeated throughout the metal scene.
Above all though, this expectation was even more-so directed at the band themselves. The pressure to continue the legacy was met unfulfilled when the album cycle for their subsequent release The Great Misdirect came and went without its own live release, likely due to the desire to not repeat themselves (or perhaps to avoid ever having to deal with Victory Records ever again). Now comfortable under the wing of Metal Blade Records and at the tail end of the cycle for their first proper lyrically conceptual full-length The Parallax II: Future Sequence, the band have gifted prog metal nerds the world over with Future Sequence: Live at the Fidelitorium. Having the honor of being the first ever Blu-ray release from Metal Blade, Live at the Fidelitorium sees the band eschewing the concert setting in favor of a more intimate performance at Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville, NC. A brilliant move on their part, for what we have here is a simple yet elegant performance of what may be the group’s most ambitious material to date.
Much can be said about the source material in Future Sequence, and we did as much when we ran our review two years ago. The band’s fanbase seems divided between the band’s more hardcore-oriented early material and the more epic and progressive recent outings. That being said, it stands to reason that if you’re already a fan of Future Sequence, then this in-studio performance will surely amaze. Likewise, if you’re firmly in the “Alaska master race” state of mind, Live at the Fidelitorium might not do much to sway you. Either way, the current review isn’t a dissection of the band’s recent output, and instead judges Live at the Fidelitorium as it is: a live audio/visual representation of the material.
Musically, much of Live at the Fidelitorium is indistinguishable from its non-live counterpart. Between the Buried and Me are renowned for their technical prowess, and are more often than not tightly locked in step. No doubt the band are kept tethered to the material through the very same click track they used during the recording sessions, as evidenced by the fact that much of the tracks maintain their exact runtime as the album versions. It’s easy to forget that you’re listening to a live performance during many instrumental sections, only to be snapped back into reality during frontman Tommy Rogers’ imperfect vocals or an ever so slightly mismatched harmony sneaks into axemen Paul Waggoner and Dustie Warring’s fast-paced leads. Understandably, the musicians here can and do succumb to fatigue in some degree; Future Sequence is over an hour of technically demanding music. Rogers himself is a victim of this most audibly during the live record, whose voice wavers and becomes pitchy throughout.
It’s because of these imperfect moments that Live at the Fidelitorium is even worth the effort to begin with. Had Between the Buried and Me delivered an exact pitch and rhythmically perfect live replica of Future Sequence, the entire experience would have been redundant. Hearing the notes not lining up perfectly or hearing Rogers increasingly tiring voice humanizes the band in a time when swathes of young bands are dabbling in the mechanical and soulless. The environment in which the band performs compliments this idea beautifully as well, with the band baring all and given nothing to hide behind in an intimate performance of a conceptual opus. The idea was to present the band in an environment that feels stripped-down and natural, as if the band were jamming in their rehearsal space, and they’ve successfully captured that vibe on Live at the Fidelitorium.
The material is brought to life with the aid of an array of guest musicians that includes former drummer Will Goodyear (who performs marimba and glockenspiel and highlights an instrumental break in ‘Extremophile Elite’) and Walter Fancourt of bassist Dan Briggs’ jazz fusion side-project Trioscapes (who performs tenor saxophone and the flute solo during ‘Melting City’). A live tuba player and a string quartet sit on standby as well to accompany the band in adjacent studio rooms to properly fill-out the album material. That isn’t to say that Live at the Fidelitorium is completely without samples or backing tracks, but it’s clear that the band and production team went above and beyond to make sure that this release was something special.
Outside of the performance video, the main disc also includes a collection of behind-the-scenes videos and interviews that help the band define and capture the spirit of Live at the Fidelitorium and sheds light on the work that went into shooting the performance. The band are captured loading out gear and working with director Justin Reich in setting up the floor layout and staging of the band. Also of note is a brief feature that explores the band’s relationship with producer Jaime King, who has often been referred to as BTBAM’s honorary fifth member. King likens the recording of Live at the Fidelitorium to the recording of the band’s self-titled debut, which was recorded “almost live” in his mother’s basement.
That’s about the only parallel you’ll find to the band’s younger years here; while the band was initiated with a raw and grizzly proto-deathcore sound, these days the band are highly technical and near-clinical in their approach to progressive music, and that’s reflected throughout Live at the Fidelitorium. Colors Live fed off the energy of the crowd in the spirit of the band’s live show and was a true concert film. Live at the Fidelitorium is more like a technical playthrough and clinic than a proper live performance, and that’s just a reflection of where the band are at the moment. And that’s perfectly fine, because Live at the Fidelitorium does its job as a masterclass of modern progressive and extreme metal.
Between the Buried and Me’s Future Sequence: Live at the Fidelitorium is available now via Metal Blade Records.