Between the Buried and Me
The Great Misdirect
posted on 12/2009 By:
Quite a few people are all fired up about Between the Buried and Me for very different reasons. Again. For many, the quintet’s fifth album proper, The Great Misdirect, represents the latest gospel from on high, belted through the clouds by the divine incarnation of modern progressive metal; the sonic sine qua non of heavy eclecticism. For others, BTBAM are infuriating prog-metal posers, full of mere bombast and mock sincerity, more akin to art school dropout charlatans hustling palm readings on modern metal’s boardwalk. To these folks the band bastardize the notion of the vanguard by doing little more than running willy nilly up and down the scales while shouting a lot and breaking-down a lot in between pointless, self-aggrandizing forays into and around all things proggy.
Well, that’s all just silly, isn’t it? Of course it is. Obviously, Between the Buried and Me are not heavy metal divinity but neither are they pretenders. No sweeping statement will adequately sum up the band, no matter how pie-eyed or jaundiced, so let’s just focus on the music, shall we?
While The Great Misdirect keeps intact Colors’ general formula of extended progressive eclectics wrapped around punctuated blasts of metalcore, the new album is notable for its focus on fluidity, most evident in its transitions. There is still a lot of off-kilter time structures, cattywampus riffing and the apparently mandatory inclusion of various curiosities throughout, such as the Patton-esque la-la’s and sideshow soundtrack, all of which individually threaten to run the whole shebang right off its twisted tracks. The thing is, they make it work. These elements on past albums have at times felt tacked on, a frequent criticism of the band’s catalog. This time, though, each presents as an integral part of its respective song and, what’s more, often effectively reflects the lyrics, a song-enriching skill too often undervalued in music generally.
Take, for example, the album’s second track, “Obfuscation,” which initially revolves maniacally around a bevy of complex, angular rhythms that start and stop with schizophrenic incertitude. It’s a continual revving and ramping up to palpable, periodically agonizing tension that tosses the listener about like a leaf in a tempest; the sort of billowing swirl of disconnected ideas that torment the man confronted with Reality’s most frustrating discontinuities. But there is method in this madness, occasionally hinting at respite, offering it only at the verge of collapse. These moments of clarity come intermittently with the furling of more cohesive rhythmic structures to more substantial harmony and melody, undulating bass lines and balmy leads generating purpose from anger and focusing the force of frustration on resolution. Then the capricious surge and sweep is at long last coiled round a mightily ascendant key change and thrust upward into resplendent guitar solo, consummating the full on transformation of crippling uncertainty into irrepressible fortitude.
BTBAM’s ability to focus all of that clamor cleanly into something both compelling and meaningful reflects the songwriting maturity many predicted would come with the band’s continued progression. Similarly enjoyable moments abound from the cock first cowboy swagger of the bluesy break in “Damage, Injury, Madness” to the unexpected ode to Porcupine Tree in “Fossil Genera - A Feed from Cloud Mountain” and the jazzy, funky undercurrents coursing through “Swim to the Moon” which also boasts the record’s most impressive guitar/keyboard tète-à-tète.
Some things haven’t changed. On a less severe note, the metalcore-y bits still sound vaguely like a heavier, less unbalanced Dillinger Escape Plan. More problematic, there is still so much Dream Theater scattered about BTBAM’s design that the homage vs. pilferage debate will undoubtedly harass fans of the former band, same as it did on Colors. Mostly it’s apparent in the bass and lead guitar tones of the progressive breaks, but aficionados will also notice several riffs borrowed from Dream Theater’s strongest albums. In the end, it really doesn’t matter because none of it is egregious enough to taint the quality of the songs. Besides, it could be argued there is nothing new under the sun and it isn’t as if Dream Theater don’t borrow from their friends (just ask Rush, the Ned Flanders to DT’s Homer Simpson).
There forever will be the underwhelming clash of lovers and haters, especially when it comes to two of heavy metal’s most blindly exalted and impetuously maligned sub-genres in prog and metalcore, respectively. Honestly, there’s so much of these arguments wrapped up in the scene as to render them irrelevant to the music. All the histrionics aside, a focus on the music reveals The Great Misdirect to be an improvement on an already outstanding template for progressive metalcore, one that sets Between the Buried and Me apart from their peers in these domains and atop the world in their own.
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