When prog metal titans Between the Buried and Me announced that their new album would be titled Colors II, it brought about not just a massive amount of hype, but raised questions about the band’s intentions and capabilities. It’s fair to be cynical of the band’s decision to call their new album Colors II for multiple reasons. Can Between the Buried and Me finally escape the shadow of Colors by embracing it instead? Despite Colors having no clear narrative concept making the prospect of a “sequel” preposterous, purposefully revisiting their fourteen year-old opus as a well of inspiration for their new album is seemingly the antithesis of the Between the Buried and Me modus operandi. Plus, there was always the risk of the title being a shallow marketing ploy to drive album sales based on nostalgia; and if we’re being honest, I think we can all admit that Automata being split into two releases was plainly a marketing tactic to double unit sales for what was explicitly written as a single record, so being manipulated in such a way is not exactly unprecedented.
These are all fair criticisms and worries that even I, the most ardent BTBAM apologist and fanboy on staff, have had a hard time batting out of the air. I’ve had to wait and hope for the best, wading through some promising singles in the bossa nova, death metal, and power metal infused “Revolution in Limbo” (hurray for more weird genre-bending sections!) and the gospel-tinged drum-centric hardcore banger “Fix the Error” (hurray for more drum solos!). Weird first impressions to be sure — that’s always been the thing with BTBAM — and despite some aesthetic cues, neither track exactly makes a stylistic link to Colors particularly obvious.
[Major spoilers for the album’s content below.]
Fortunately, it would seem that Between the Buried and Me has absolutely imbued this new album with overt nods to their career-defining 2007 opus, and the initial spin is quite exhilarating with its heavy-handed use of fan service. Sonically, the record feels in the lineage of the Colors – The Great Misdirect – Parallax era, with hints of some of the sounds that would come later on Coma Ecliptic and Automata. Opening track “Monochrome” hearkens to the familiar sparse piano and vocal introductions of “Foam Born” and “Node,” perhaps with more direct musical cues towards the former before exploding into “The Double Helix Of Extinction,” which borrows quite heavily from “Decade of Statues.”
It’s here where the band shows that they are absolutely capable of being absurdly heavy, and can levy some sort of visceral and emotive spirit as frontman Tommy Rogers bellows the band’s name repeatedly in a beautiful (if not on-the-nose) moment of greatness. To clear it up: Colors II contains some of the heaviest material the band has done in nearly a decade, and at times takes some influence from slam and black metal alike. Rogers’ screams often have the urgency you’re looking for, plus a few BLEGHs for the old school fans.
“Never Seen / Future Shock” is a clear highlight that picks up from the “Fix The Error” cliffhanger, and includes some powerful grooves and playful synth work that eventually makes room for folk metal (yay, new territory!) for its chorus. Also of note: massive new wave drum fills, a brief foray into Mr. Bungle, and some King Crimson worship, as one would expect in this era of the BTBAM discography. “Prehistory” is an absolute delight and does some fascinating things in its fusion of funk and folk in its early moments before going into full-on avant-garde slapstick — with cartoon samples and all — and providing a nod to The Great Misdirect as Rogers sings, “will we be forced to sing with the fear?”
Later, “Bad Habits” recalls the southern rock solo section riffs and “sleep on/fly on” lyrics from “Ants of the Sky” to stunning effect, but ultimately suffers from a toothless chorus until its final moments offer a more substantively haunting finale and one of the album’s best moments. “The Future Is Behind Us” sees Rogers singing, “open the closed off circle!” in a lukewarm callback to “White Walls” matched against the band’s wackiest and well-incorporated Danny Elfman-inspired work to date. Elsewhere, “Stare Into The Abyss” and “Turbulent” share connective tissue between them that seems informed by Devin Townsend‘s ethereal and joyous Epicloud-like works and feels more tonally consistent with Automata instead Colors.
The album’s finale “Human is Hell” — which notably features some jagged surf-rock, some furiously heavy blasts, and the return of an iconic breakdown — has “White Walls” woven into its DNA, with a propulsive intro and transitions that capture some of the spirit of that epic finale, but the ending of this one is unceremoniously and frustratingly anti-climactic. Coming from a band with a penchant for the epic finale, it’s a tough swallow when the album ends and you’re left not really feeling any sort of way about it.
No matter what, Between the Buried and Me are incredibly proficient at creating wonderful musical moments, and Colors II actually has plenty of those. However, it is bloated and incredibly unbalanced; while it features some of the highest highs of any album since Parallax II, its lulls are middling and disaffected. A successful sequel could have been qualified by being half as emotionally resonant as Colors. Colors II isn’t. Between the Buried and Me have historically banked off of the thrill of the initial spin as fans explore the band’s thrillingly unpredictable songwriting style, and Colors II features enough fan service, genre shifts, synth do-bobs, and wonky riffs to accomplish that. For much of their discography, there at least exists well-crafted and emotionally resonant hooks and intensely satisfying climaxes that prop up this enjoyment for repeated listens. For Colors II, unfortunately, this is sometimes not the case, and it’s frustrating.
Does that make Colors II a bad album? Not necessarily. Colors II does demonstrate that the band are just as capable of intensely creative extreme metal, and just like any other BTBAM album, facilitates an evolving relationship with the listener. It just stumbles in meeting its inevitably heightened expectations. Colors II is an incredibly loaded title and a massive gamble, and whether or not that pays off seems to vary wildly depending on who you ask; as I write this the week of release, every single review published to date has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s not for the lack of wanting.
Ultimately, it does feel like a step towards the right direction following Automata. It’s safe to say that Between the Buried and Me sounds most engaging these days being metalcore’s take on Oingo Boingo and classic prog, and it’s a sound they do quite well when the hooks are there to support. It’s also a treat to hear the band revisit their back catalogue again. The ground covered on this album has the potential to serve as a valuable transition in the band’s evolution as they attempt to fine-tune their style two decades deep into an incredible career as forebears to an entire new wave of prog metal, and I still believe that any new BTBAM record is reason enough to celebrate.
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Between the Buried and Me’s Colors II drops August 20th via Sumerian Records. The album can be purchased at this location.