Between the Buried and Me
The Parallax II: Future Sequence
posted on 10/2012 By:
We all have certain bands that we enjoy, sometimes even love, with certain conditions. I have long been like this with Between the Buried and Me, understanding their shortcomings but enjoying them because of the greatness that they can achieve. Having first been introduced to them through Alaska but hooked with Colors, their works not only provided a fresh take on well-known genres but gave me a much needed prog outlet during a drab period in Dream Theater’s career. After The Great Misdirect took them to new heights in compositional ability, I thought it only logical to review the following EP, last year’s The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. Mistake. Instead of allowing me to further analyze the qualities that have made them successful and at times quite thrilling, it forced me to come face to face with an undeniable truth:
That Between the Buried and Me is, and will likely always be, a very flawed band.
Granted, the EP was a notable step back from Misdirect, but the eye opening was undeniable. This is a band of immense instrumental talent and nearly unmatched ambition, but they are flawed. From Tommy Rogers’ limitations as a vocalist to Paul Waggoner’s refusal to stop aping John Petrucci despite his inferior melodic abilities, there are caveats here that are hard to ignore when listening to this music with a critical ear. Another is the band’s general lack of originality, despite fans overwhelmingly citing them as modern-day pioneers. Their greatest albums, when split into their individual parts, are largely just a combination of Dream Theater and early Aughties technical metalcore, with smaller splashes of older prog and space rock tossed in for dynamics. Sure, it is in this combination that they have found their niche, but it isn’t like they’re providing a seamless blend, they’re merely juxtaposing the harsh and gentle directly up against each other, hoping that shit sticks to the wall when tossed.
And yet, despite these limitations, the band has achieved some pretty fantastic things. Certain prog sections might seem overly derivative, and a heavy breakdown may be a tad too pandering to the caveman mosh crowd, but BTBAM has long been a band reaching for that big moment. And when they get to it, they nail it. So eventually, no matter how pedestrian certain song sections are on their own, they all become support structure for the peaks that this band is so adept at delivering, even if their relationships don’t always make sense.
All of these aspects, the faults, the failures, and glories alike, define BTBAM, and as you might expect, likewise define The Parallax II: Future Sequence. This truth is announced instantly with the cringe-worthy vocals in intro “Goodbye to Everything,” followed by redeeming prog overture enjoyment in “Astral Body.” It’s a constant balancing act of good and mediocre, derivative (counterfeit) and wholly inspired, but like in the past, it’s great far more than not, and the more one listens, the more one begins to forgive or even ignore the weaker parts.
Future Sequence logically shares the slightly more spaced-out sound of its predecessor EP, eschewing many of the classic rock (and at times fun) influences of The Great Misdirect. However, it also frequently injects a bright, almost optimistic feel into the songs that sets it apart from the EP. The album structure itself acts as one large piece, or at least to the same degree that any single BTBAM song feels like one complete piece, meaning that this is as spastic, seemingly disjointed, and silo-sectioned as both Colors and the preceding EP were, choosing not to be as focused as The Great Misdirect (or at least as “focused” as the band ever is; let’s not kid ourselves here).
Where the disjointed arrangements take their small toll is by getting in the way of the song or album’s best interests. By feeling the need to inject every possible sound into all of the extensive songs, the band takes the album down a notch from possibly great to merely good, proving that they can indeed be their own worst enemy. Nowhere is this more evident than on (virtual) finale “Silent Flight Parliament.” The song’s beginning and end are overflowing with the sense that some grand story is coming to a close, but so much of the middle seems to meander in a hardcore / prog jam session that, while quite enjoyable, makes little sense in the grand scheme of the song. Even “Extremophile Elite,” the album’s finest song and a real humdinger regardless of its context, falls prey to this a bit. But again, it’s so easy for forgive, whether forgiveness is right or not.
It’s hard to envision BTBAM ever changing the detrimental facets of their sound, and why should they? Why look at yourselves in the mirror if such a large group of people are praising your beauty? Furthermore, even to the ears of a fan / critic who is having a tough time ignoring the issues, said issues are still overshadowed by the strengths, and I’ll probably return to this in spite of the gripes mentioned above, even if I should be giving my time to more complete bands and albums. Overall, Future Sequence is close to the quality of Colors, but far below the expert writing of The Great Misdirect, rendering it a disappointment in that they’ve come back around the corner they were thought to have turned. But really, this changes nothing. Opinions of BTBAM will continue to be largely polarized, with both sides having even more fuel for their arguments. Detractors will hate and fanboys will worship, but since the latter have all likely purchased this already, why did I just write this other than for personal therapy?
That’s as puzzling as my lingering favor for this band, which very much still exists... I think…
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The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
4/12/2011 Between the Buried and Me
The Great Misdirect
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9/6/2005 Between the Buried and Me
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