The latest album from prog vegan metalcore (not a real genre) masters Between the Buried and Me is a lot to take in. But anyone who has ever listened to their music will know that’s hardly surprising. The band has long been known for bonkers gearshifts, crushing riffs and a blend of brutal growls and infectious melodies. In terms of the band’s key ingredients, there’s nothing missing on Coma Ecliptic. However, as one might expect from a progressive band, there are some nice changes and new tricks thrown in.
In many ways the melodic side of their music has become more prominent over the last few albums. The most prominent feature of their early music was very much the metalcore. For sure, they exhibited a clear prog influence and threw in a number of melodic sections, but the balance came very much down on the side of heavy. But with each release they have brought more variety and more melody to their songs, and this continues here. I don’t simply mean a lower proportion of the vocal sections being harsh (growls, screams, etc.) but the music itself – even the heavy sections have gradually become more tuneful with each record. The all-out heavy sections have not vanished, but they have taken a bit of a step back to allow more room for a variety of styles and ideas.
Indeed, one of the real strengths of the new album is the whimsy with which they play around with the music. It opens in traditional, some might suggest formulaic, BTBAM fashion with a gentle introduction called Node (involving electric piano this time, having gone with clean guitars on 2009’s The Great Misdirect and 2012’s Parallax II: Future Sequence). It’s an excellent start to the album, though very much par for the course.
But whereas their last three full-lengths have followed a slow start with a heavy start to track 2, a way to exhibit the two extremes in their music from the off, here The Coma Machine kicks in with a theatrical piano-driven prog rock motif. It still rocks, undoubtedly, but it opens with a melodic chorus that brings some of the band’s theatrical influences (Queen, Danny Elfman et al) to the fore. That said, it’s not long before the song gets heavy, and it takes a huge number of twists and turns over its 7 and a half minutes.
One thing I really struggle to do with this album is pick out highlights, because it is all so good, so varied and so well-paced. Dim Ignition is moody and tense, with its slightly robotic vocal melodies. Famine Wolf starts like Opeth on drugs, but quickly builds into a typical and absolutely brilliant BTBAM tune, with much of the album’s heaviest moments alongside huge melodies and some unusual quirks. In some ways, it epitomises the album, bringing a particularly peculiar brand of epic. King Redeem – Queen Serene has an absolutely fantastic chorus, while Turn on the Darkness keeps you entertained by moving so suddenly between different moods that it’s hard to keep up.
The Ectopic Stroll is another song that very much brings out the theatrics, and I’d probably say it’s one of my favourites (having commented that it’s hard to pick highlights – I don’t always follow my own rules!). It also exemplifies one of the big shifts on this album, which is the variety of vocal styles that Tommy Rogers (aka Thomas Giles) employs. In the run up to the album’s release, he commented that he had taken a huge influence from Danny Elfman in coming up with a bigger range of ways to sing, and it really shows across the album. The growls and clean vocals that we are used to remain, but quite a lot of the time he uses unusual techniques to create a very distinctive sound, which adds to some of the theatrical influences in a hugely complementary way.
Rapid Calm is probably the most straightforward song on the album, but still has plenty to love about it. Following up is Memory Palace, arguably the most indulgently “prog” song on the record. Again, no criticism there, and it has lots of fantastic stuff in it, though for me it doesn’t particularly stack together as a song (the fact that I would pick this out at all demonstrates, I think, just how the band has come in producing more coherent music). This leads into the penultimate song, Option Oblivion, which has the air of a closer about it with its epic vibe and top notch reprises of themes from early in the album.
The actual closer, however, is another favourite of mine. Life in Velvet is almost a 3 and a half minute rock-opera on its own. It starts with a simple, melancholy piano theme and a lovely tune, and halfway through the song kicks into what might be the band’s finest end to an album. It gives me chills each time I hear it (which has been a good number of times) and leaves me feeling so pumped that it’s hard not to go back to track 1 and start all over again.
All in all, this is a superb new album from BTBAM, perhaps not quite reaching the heady heights of Parallax II but really not far off. The production is wonderful and easily their best to date – getting such a clear and crisp sound from such complex, dense and intense music is no easy task but they’re finally nailing it. Performances from the whole band are also fantastic – hugely skilled but never indulgent, with stunning guitar leads and excellent rhythm backing. The band is on such incredible form at the moment, with four home run LPs in a row now, that it’s hard to understand how they’re doing it and how much longer they can keep it up.