Believe it or not, there are still folks out there who haven’t given Between the Buried and Me much spin-time; perhaps it’s due to the sprawling and technical nature of some of their later-era tracks or because of the deathcore and hardcore leanings of their early work. That’s fine and all, but it’s ultimately a disservice to write off an entire discography as dense as North Carolina prog metal titans Between the Buried and Me’s without at least noting the breadth of style and evolution that the band have developed over the past eighteen years.
From their early days blending rough breakdowns and melodic death metal riffs to their recent turn towards theatrical Queen worship, we’ve curated a list of eight tracks from throughout the group’s discography to adequately represent the growth and development of Between the Buried and Me’s highly influential and disparate discography in celebration of their new release, Automata I, out today on Sumerian Records.
Take a trip through the evolution of BTBAM below.
“More of Myself To Kill” (Between the Buried and Me, 2002)
For my money, the Between the Buried and Me of the self-titled album was the best iteration of the group. I realize that’s not a particularly popular opinion, and many lovers of modern BTBAM tend to find these albums acceptable at best or fun as curios but with little musical validity of their own to stand on, but these people are dead. Fucking. Wrong. Everything that would make later BTBAM a progressive metal force to be reckoned with – the tendencies towards self-indulgence, the creative use of clean vocals, the dichotomy between the heavy and the serene – all are here in spades.
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the self-titled: a raw, manic undercurrent of completely primal energy that comes out in the most sincere and heartfelt way possible. There’s no period where Between the Buried and Me was more themselves than this release. Listening to “More of Myself to Kill,” this becomes obvious quickly; the tendencies of metalcore and mathcore that defined the self-titled album show themselves in bursts of high-octane riffing and cascading breakdowns interspersing one another. (Some of the first appearances of “the BTBAM transition” are here too). The song’s entire latter half is probably the best thing the band has committed to record: the melodic explosion at 3:29 that energizes the track from there on out is simultaneously gorgeous and heavy as hell.
The production, too, is rough and coarse and, most importantly, amateur, giving the whole thing a sort of youthful glow that none of their later albums would capture on. All of this adds into a potent concoction of sincere, exciting, and powerful music that languishes in relative obscurity because of BTBAM’s career arc, which is a shame, because the self-titled is a damn good album.
“Mordecai” (The Silent Circus, 2003)
A beginning is a delicate time; BTBAM’s reaction to that delicacy was to charge right through it. Their self titled and second album are arguably the heaviest they’ve ever been. There’s an energy, hunger and abrasion that are somewhat absent from their mid-career and completely absent from their late career. And, as much as we’ve come and as long as it’s been, there’s an undeniable immediacy to BTBAM’s early roots.
“Mordecai” is a fantastic example; the roots of the progressive musicians that later gave rise to BTBAM’s legacy are well in evidence but they’re coated in a thick film of distortion, breakneck speed and heaviness. Most evidently, the vocal duality which made the band famous is all over this track; one minute they’re aggressive and guttural and in the other, Rogers clean and distinct timbre shines through.
In a sense, “Mordecai” (and the rest of the album) are children of their time. They tap into much of what was popular and burgeoning in the scene at their time; mathcore, hardcore, technical death metal, all are in force on this track. As much as narratives of growth, origin and nostalgia can be pointless, it’s hard to resist a misty-eyed look at this period in the band’s history. Something about their energy and sincerity just shines through.
“Selkies: The Endless Obsession” (Alaska, 2005)
Between the Buried and Me’s “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” (better known as just “Selkies”) reigns as the Between the Buried and Me song. While many people will point to Alaska’s follow-up in Colors as the definitive album from the band’s catalog, there isn’t a song more iconic in their entire body of work that screams “Between the Buried and Me” quite like this one.
From the playful keyboard introduction that introduces all the major players, including the deceptively soft vocals on behalf of Tommy Rogers, before launching into the overly aggressive musings of innocent individuals.
“Selkies” continues with its sharp thrusts before culminating recognizable “GODDAMN TELEVISION GOD, CORRUPT ME” moment that hits you like a ton of bricks before inevitably returning to the main riff. “Selkies” once again changes and takes a softer, progressive tone for the latter half of the song, offering a sincere sweet relief. “Selkies” also takes the mantle of what might be the cleanest and most exemplary guitar solo the band has ever put forth, with a solo section that lasts just around two minutes until the song fades out.
“White Walls” (Colors, 2007)
This is it: This is the moment Between the Buried and Me became Between the Buried and Me. With Colors, BTBAM transformed from that one weird metal/deathcore band with all the interesting ideas to being the distinctly progressive metal titans we know them as today. You could essentially take any song from this greatest of modern prog metal records and claim it as the band’s true masterpiece (save for perhaps “The Backtrack” and “Viridian”, which function more as an intro/interlude, respectively). However, it’s “White Walls” which stands out as the record’s ultimate crowning achievement, and which set the benchmark for everything the band and any other acts of their ilk have tried their hand at to this day.
Coming out of the bridge-like “Viridian”, “White Walls” occupies the climactic, final position in Colors’ singular composition. As the longest track on the record—and their third-longest, individual arrangement to this date, behind “Swim to the Moon” and “Silent Flight Parliament” (see below)—“White Walls” contains more than its share of individual movements. From its frantic beginnings to its elating, cathartic climax, the track represents the culmination of everything Between the Buried and Me had worked for up until that point, and remains perhaps the best example of the band finding harmony between ambition and execution.
So many of the song’s moments are fleeting. Yet, for all its wild variation—and far more than anything that came after—“White Walls” feels like it’s anchored around a central theme. There are far too many highlights captured within its ample running-time to list here, but it’s hard to go past the almost inhuman guitar solo (beginning around 10:50) that drives the track to its conclusion, or the section (3:30) where drummer Blake Richardson cuts sick and practically solos along with the next couple of minutes. Neither of these is to mention the remarkably subtle, yet undeniably essential role bassist Dan Briggs plays, nor what are probably the three greatest singular instances of dropping into half-time ever committed to record: twice during the “main” riff (first at 0:33, and again at about 5:55), and then during the song’s epic mid section (7:33), during which the bridled chaos hinted at at the end of “Sun of Nothing” is finally fully unleashed.
The track’s MVP, however, might just be one Thomas Giles Rogers Jr. Although Rogers’ vocals have always been a contentious issue when it comes to Between the Buried and Me, here he’s at the top of his game, and it goes to show just how much he can elevate a song when he’s on point. From the a capella-driven mid-section (5:20) to the moment he erupts, along with the rest of the song into it’s trademark catch cry of “this is all we have, when we die” (8:00), Rogers continually elevates an already phenomenal musical composition to the realms of the truly extraordinary. His oft-derided harsh vocals likewise elevate proceedings, with his sublime cry of “white walls!!” during the song’s most overtly destructive moment (9:50) providing the perfect catharsis of frustrated, negative energy to counterbalance its overall uplifting message.
“White Walls” is essentially the Between the Buried and Me manifesto. Along with being the compositional culmination of their early period, lyrically, it was a declaration that they would stand apart from the crowd; that the creation of their art and its expression would be their highest calling; that they would never be compromised. The lyrics culminate in a refrain of “we will be remembered for this” and, over a decade since their release, “White Walls” continues to close out nearly every BTBAM show, and the impact of Colors continues to be felt within modern, progressive metal.
“Obfuscation” (The Great Misdirect, 2009)
How can one Between the Buried and Me track hold a candle to another? Among the sprawling genre bending compositions, sprawling suites of recurring themes and motifs, and the solid progressive deathcore there’s little room for rubbing elbows. No stone remains unturned with them. Memorability sometimes hinging on the out of place transition or left-field song writing decision. They use their malleability as a band to their advantage, and it must be said, we’re grateful for that at Heavy Blog. But it’s not without fault. No fan of BTBAM hasn’t questioned their whimsy, no matter how charmed we are by it.
Worse yet, how do you follow up Colors? Fucking COLORS? Undeniably one of the most essential metal albums of our time, BTBAM have always managed to have their work cut out for them. It seemed destined that BTBAM would fall out of line. And while a consensus has never been unanimous after Colors, one thing’s for certain. The track they followed up that album with is lightning in a bottle.
“Obfuscation” is, for lack of a better term, a masterpiece. It certainly doesn’t rewrite the book on great BTBAM songs but it absolutely sets the bar high. The song explodes with a riff that seems to have no horizon. A freight train of a composition constantly transforming itself as the song barrels forward at a breakneck speed. Rarely straying from its themes, “Obfuscation” constantly finds itself pulling towards this main riff. The riff medley’s itself. It’s played succinctly in melodeath styles, death metal styles and classic Dream Theater-esque prog rock. It’s a fully formed beast of a riff that has taken hold of the song in a way that few of their songs do. With our rhythm section of Dustie, Dan and Blake doing most of the heavy lifting for the pace and tempo of the song. They give our riff not just a backbone, but a heartbeat. Crescendos and decrescendos feel integral to the structure of our lead guitar. It’s very nature to build and release, rinse and repeat. Before we even reach the midpoint of the song, we find ourselves entrenched in this living and breathing composition. And to fill out it’s sonic structure,Tommy absolutely wails here. Matching the song not in it’s dynamics, but it’s utter relentlessness.
The transitions before the chorus range from breakneck thrash sections to clean, synth laden reprisals, lead still by the riff. After about four minutes, our anthemic chorus is delivered to us. Tommy effortlessly gives us one of his most iconic lines that we all know and love, “Close one eye, step to the side”. They quickly transition back into our main themes to hammer them into your head before they venture into an essential section of psychedelic guitar soloing. It wouldn’t be a classic BTBAM song without a tonal shift, after all. However, this harkens back to the first track on The Great Misdirect, “Mirrors” in a way that justifies our detour. And if you so choose, it adds another layer of depth to the track, acting as a prologue. After a rock star finish to trippy second act, our third act starts threading together the non-riff elements of the song. The chord progressions and more ambient leads converge and build into a transition that seems to be playing itself up a mountain. The crescendo is massive as we dive right into our riff again. Except it’s not just the riff, it’s also a solo. And it’s beautiful and iconic. Tommy, strikes yet a second time with the anthemic “We will always be part of the great misdirect”. As letting our main riff just fade out wouldn’t do it justice. With so much momentum, no ending proper would do this song justice, so it peels off and ends.
“Obfuscation” is on the shortlist of some of the best progressive metal songs of all time. It cements BTBAM’s legacy and emboldens Colors. It’s BTBAM rising to the occasion. It’s so distinctly its own entity as a track amongst their catalogue, indicative of what BTBAM are capable of as a whole. The question was never if this band was the real deal or not. That much is clear, the question is can they create timeless iconic music. With “Obfuscation,”they have. Full stop.
“Specular Reflection” (The Parallax I: Hypersleep Dialogues, 2012)
From the moment you hear the dissonant piano that begins “Specular Reflection” you know something’s up. Hypersleep Dialogues served as much as an appetizer as a precautionary exposure for what was to come with part two of the Parallax Sequence and beyond. Between the Buried and Me were a band that had occupied nearly every section of the progressive metal spectrum or another by this point, but even then, this song was something different. Perhaps only mildly, but definitively so nonetheless. Though not as complex as some of the band’s earlier compositions, the track hinted at a level of scope not yet fully explored by the quintet, which would certainly come to fruition, and perhaps even reach breaking point with Future Sequence.
I’m not exactly sure why—given that, “on paper”, the song is very much in line with BTBAM’s general aesthetic—but there’s something about “Specular Reflection” that still feels fresh and interesting in the context of the band’s discography. Along with the added dissonance, there’s a grandiosity and sense of scope perhaps more perfectly captured here than on even the most lavish cut from The Great Misdirect, without it really going anywhere near as far musically. It also contains, arguably, the last great Tommy (Giles) Rogers vocal performance—outside of his solo records—and while the band’s subsequent albums certainly have their moments, it’s “Specular Reflection” and Hypersleep Dialogues which I generally consider the last truly impressive outings from Between the Buried and Me.
The problem (if you will accept that there is one) with the band’s last couple of records is not so much their content as its exhausting presentation. As the band’s compositions became increasing elongated and cerebral they likewise became difficult to stomach in one sitting. Colors and The Great Misdirect avoided this pitfall by keeping things between six to eight tracks, including a couple of interludes. However, both Future Sequence and Coma Ecliptic are eleven-track affairs, which are, furthermore, about ten or so minutes longer than either of those earlier albums.
In such a setting, a song as great as “Specular Reflection” might have wound up getting lost. However, the impact it carries here, in its comparatively minimalist setting, suggests that—more than a Sumerian marketing gimmick—this kind of reductive method might just be the perfect way to consume modern Between the Buried and Me. Early experiences with Automata I perhaps suggest otherwise, but it’s “Specular Reflection” that I recall far more readily than any singular composition that came after, and Hypersleep Dialogues that I reach for far more often than Future Sequence, and which for me signals the end of the classic BTBAM-era.
“Silent Flight Parliament” (The Parallax II: Future Sequence, 2013)
At this point in the between the buried and me discography, there were certain expectations to be met out of a Between the Buried and Me full-length, one of which would be that the finale needs to be over ten minutes long, offer a summary of the album’s musical themes, and end in a soaring climax and/or crushing breakdown. “Silent Flight Parliament” delivered on this promise, and while BTBAM surely don’t like being predictable, the trend was absolutely satisfying while it lasted (the band broke from that habit with Coma Ecliptic).
“Silent Flight” offered compelling conceptual drama out of the two characters arcs coming to a devastating close, and as such, had the music to match. Length notwithstanding, the track is truly epic and harrowing. Exhilarating riffs and propulsive prog rhythms carry the song through subtle musical reprises from throughout the album in the track’s frenzied first half. At the song’s midpoint, a tonal shift occurs that introduces a genre shift with somber organs with a climax featuring a grooving odd-timed rock riff with epic duelling guitar solos. Possibly the most powerful moment the act put together since “White Walls.”
The icing on the cake is the dramatic closure, where the music drops out to an orchestral theme and chilling final chorus where the story’s protagonists realize that they’re alone in the universe after destroying everything they know and love.
These are the BTBAM-isms that capture the mid-to-late era discography and set the stage for the Pink Floyd (and other legacy dad prog acts) worship that would later come out of Coma Ecliptic and, presumably, Automata. “Silent Flight Parliament” is quintessential BTBAM, and is has enough moving parts to be representative of their sound, particularly of the area in which it was crafted.
“Famine Wolf” (Coma Ecliptic, 2015)
Coma Ecliptic is Between The Buried and Me’s transformation in real time.
We get to see the best elements of the bands past and where they want their future to be in this one package. Coma Ecliptic is sprinkled throughout with riffs of the bands metalcore roots and there is no denying it’s a part of their sound that the band does not want to fade away. The weight has shifted and BTBAM would rather just divide all parts equal. Diving deeper down the prog rabbit hole, paying respects to elements of Queen and Pink Floyd.
This is where “Famine Wolf” comes in. It’s the embodiment of what all fans can love about BTBAM. There is an equilibrium with this song, equal parts new sound to old. This is apparent right away with the dissonance of guitars playing a shredding lead and an anxious rhythm section, but on top of it we have synths sitting higher in the mix than previous albums and Tommy’s climbing vocals which are no doubt a tribute to Freddy Mercury.
This is what “Famine Wolf” is. It’s an ever-escalating scale of old and new, heavy and calm, dissonant and melodic.
The reason this song deserves to be the staple in this era of their discography is because it’s a concise 7-minute piece that will probably never be reproduced on future albums. Nowhere else in their history can you find a song that has so many calls to their metal roots but infuses it so well with the new direction they want to take.
It seems like it could have been the last song they wrote for the album. It sounds the most refined with their new found writing formula and doesn’t feature (or need to rely on) any other motifs that are spread across Come Ecliptic’s concept. The track feels larger than it is and can be used as a starting place in their discography. Depending on which elements you enjoy you can go forward or back and discover truly discover where this album comes from. I believe “Famine Wolf” has stood the test of time over the past 3 years and will still be my favorite in another 3 albums.
Where does Automata I fit within the context of the Between the Buried and Me’s discography and stylistic evolution? Between the Buried and Me’s eighth studio album Automata sees its first half being released today, March 9th, 2018 via Sumerian Records. Read our review here and purchase the album at this location.