Album Review: Colors by Between the Buried And Me
Colors is the fourth full-length studio album by Progressive metal titans Between The Buried And Me. Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, the band’s style is difficult to pin down and the simple label of ‘prog metal’ would be a criminal misclassification of a very diverse band with multiple influences. Although, in general they satisfy the conditions of a ‘prog metal’ band i.e. they wildly experiment with unorthodox song structures, they explore sublime philosophical themes and they stretch the very limits of technical playing, this is just the tip of the iceberg with BTBAM. The range of incorporated material varies from the punchy, rip roaring staccato chords of Metalcore combined with the aggressive belching vocals to the double kick bass drumming and technical riffage of Death metal, similar to bands such as Death and Cynic who ruled the genre from its inception.
I’ll be honest here and say that after hearing Colors mentioned and praised with such high esteem in the metal community I was eager to get my hands on it. The result? Well…It wasn’t what I was expecting…at all…
The raspy, coughing vocals seemed to not agree with my ears and actually sounded as if they were about to burst my already bruised ear drums. The dense layering of the instrumentation in parts was hard to penetrate, not that I thought this would be an easy listen, but I wasn’t expecting to undergo the musical equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. And lastly I was struggling to pick apart the various movements of the songs in order to really feel the progression of the songs. It was all too much.
However, there is something intensely gripping about the album. The contrast between the heavy
Metalcore sections and the lighter, solemn and relaxing sections is something to be gawked at, even if the music of BTBAM isn’t your particular forte. It seems as if the band really put in effort to expand the heavier sections in order to maximize the zenith of the lighter, more melodic sections, and it pays off massively. Of course this songwriting technique is not a rarity among bands, other bands pull it off spectacularly well and in their own unique way, a few names come to mind including Porcupine Tree, Opeth and Caligula’s Horse, as well as some of the older Prog bands such as Yes. However, BTBAM’s particular recipe shines because of the accompanying lyrics, the epic buildup passages and the repeated melodies throughout the album that really cement it as a (some argue) concept album.
Going back to the topic of the ideal crescendo, the album begins with a monster crescendo as the opening eerie piano chords of Foam Born: The Backtrack enter. Tommy Giles’ clean vocal delivery matches the somewhat melancholic atmosphere the piano is creating: ‘I’ll just keep waiting…/you’ll just keep waiting…/in the cold…/the supplement…’. The band then rips into the crescendo with Muse-esque vocal harmonies to match. As expected the harsh vocals are not too far round the corner and they begin the opera.
The following songs Foam Born: The Decade of Statues and Informal Gluttony flesh out the lyrical concept more. BTBAM are no strangers to existential (some might say over the top) and sincere lyrical themes that affect all of us. Colors in particular features heavy usage of metaphor and so it is possible to have many different interpretations of the lyrics. These songs I have mentioned discuss the rigidity and routine of the human life (particularly an urban lifestyle) and the inward looking nature of most of us. Take lyrics like ‘rip out my fucking eyes/I can’t watch you grow into this/I can’t watch the young turn to all of this/their eyes left wide…’, with the occasional reprise of ‘I’ll just keep waiting…/you’ll just keep waiting…’ and ‘and like I said before the colors keep fading’. It meshes very well with the more cerebral of us, the few concerned with the moral direction of the human race. Tommy Giles’ voice does a good service to his well-written lyrics as he is able to express the angst in them, albeit with little variation in his growls.
For me, the album really picks up with the powerful soliloquy Sun of Nothing. The lyrics embellish the concept superbly well and really feel more like the internal musings of a rapper rather than a metal vocalist. That’s if it was orthodox for a hip-hop artist to rap about contemplating leaving Earth altogether in order to be free from the gluttony of the human race and be a planet of themselves. The music really peaks at the point at which the protagonist realizes the magnitude of his mistake, with what I believe to be one of the most stimulating melodic passages on the album, if not in the whole of the metal genre, with the serene backing of the lyric: ‘I’m floating towards the sun/the sun of nothing’.
This is when the band enter free-flow and the chaos enters a new stage of circus-like guitar licks and bluegrass experimentation. Ants of the Sky comes blistering in with incredible guitar leads and backing rhythms, including one particular guitar passage that is recurring throughout the song that just screams triumph and royalty, you can imagine a fearsome gladiator striking down his foe to the immense tune of this lick. It doesn’t stop there either… the band keep on coming with stellar instrumentation that quite simply puts a band like Dream Theater to shame, making Ants of the Sky probably the most dynamic song on the album in terms of instrumentation.
Prequel to the Sequel continues the madness with a memorable opening riff and overall tasty groove to keep the momentum at full force in this part of the album. The way each song blends in with one another in the second half of the album is commendable as it adds more and more weight to what will become a monumental and very cathartic finale indeed.
A short and sweet track, Viridian may seem to disrupt the flow of the second movement of the album to some, however for me there would be no White Walls without the chugging brilliance of this opener first. White Walls is the absolute stunner of the whole album for me, the crown jewel in the glistening tiara of Colors. This mammoth track solidifies the wonder of the concept with such grace and emotion, but also with harrowing brutality. At the peak of the song, all that came before seems to just be distilled and concentrated to a very simple and powerful raw emotion, an emotion that is best described as ineffable.
At this point the beautifully textured dueling guitars of Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring come in for one last go in the spotlight.
As the song dies down and the piano we heard in the opening track fades in to frame the album, we stare back at the black mirror of our audio devices and marvel at the artistry that has blessed our ears. We wonder if what BTBAM have been saying to us this whole time is really what they believe to be true about the human life and what effect we have on the world that we must eventually leave. In the end you just have to recognize that this album is an inspiration, whether or not you agree with what BTBAM are preaching. And just like that we are thrust back into our own lives pondering what shades we may leave on our own personal white wall just like Between The Buried And Me have left us Colors on their white wall.
Check the video below.