By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
They're one of the most adventurous bands making music today, an experimental-metal act in thrall to a grab-bag of influences ranging from King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer to Dream Theater and Mars Volta. Like Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me's arrangements are equally intricate and explosive. Moments of great atmospheric beauty abut grimy bass throb and firestorms of guitar while frontman Tommy Rogers alternates between clean vocals and feral howls.
Every song's essentially a roller coaster ride traversing broad 10-minute landscapes colored by a mixed palette of musical styles — fluttering hammer-on arpeggios, stately keyboard builds, swirls of dreamy distortion and thundering breakdowns. But what's truly astounding is the way they've grown over the last dozen years. What once sounded like channel surfing has evolved into something with smooth transitions between its different sonic planes.
"The biggest thing for us in writing is making sure the songs flow," Rogers says. "Because when you have a lot of parts and longer songs you want to make sure it doesn't sound random and doesn't feel cluttered. You still want it to feel like a song."
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The band formed around the turn of the century from the ashes of metal/hardcore band Prayer for Cleansing. They knew from the start that they wanted to make metal music that had "endless boundaries." Though they released a pair of albums in their first five years, it wasn't until a lineup change just before recording 2005's Alaska that things really started to progress. Replacing three-fifths of the band, they suddenly found the chemistry they were looking for.
Their follow-up, 2007's Colors, was written as one continuous piece of music (split into eight songs), and really brought their sound into focus. Their fifth studio album (excluding 2006 covers album The Anatomy of), 2009's The Great Misdirect, is easily their most eclectic. It ranges from the jazzy ethereal pop of opening "Mirrors" through the acoustic Alice in Chains-ish, "Desert of Song" to the nearly 18-minute closer, "Swim to the Moon."
Leaving longtime label Victory Records, where they stuck out like a rainbow-haired nut amongst all the conventional pop-punk and metalcore acts, BTBAM signed with Metal Blade last year. In April the band released the three-song, 30-minute EP, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. It revisits some of the early career aggression missing for The Great Misdirect, while continuing to hone their knotty King Crimson-ish guitar architecture. The EP is part of a two-part song cycle, operating as sort of a prologue to their next full-length album. Indeed, the story picks up where the character from "Swim to the Moon" left off — drifting in an endless sea.
"I thought it would be interesting to start the EP off, as far as lyrics, where The Great Misdirect ended," says Rogers, describing the story as a work in progress. "The EP is an introduction to the two people in the story. They're both on separate journeys on separate planets in different time periods, but they're very connected in a way that we'll find out later. Much of the record deals with being alone during their journeys, the travels they're contemplating and all their decisions. They've thrown away a lot of their life choices to be on this journey. Then the whole story kind of opens up with the next record."
They've been on tour for much of the year and haven't been able to do any work on the next album yet, partly because all the band members are involved in the writing. "Even though it doesn't sound it at times, it's a very great natural process. It's just how our minds work," he says.
For Rogers, their felicitous tastes are just the product of five individuals with different, rather expansive musical interests.
"It's just a natural progression — the older we get and wanting to try new things," he says. "We're definitely in a good time for it. People really want interesting music, and they want to be challenged, to hear something different, like Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon. That's exciting for a band like us, because that's what we do."