A look back at a loud rock classic that stood at the crossroads of death metal and prog
2007’s Colors was a game-changer for North Carolinian quintet Between the Buried and Me.
For one thing, it saw them greatly expanding their conceptual and compositional range toward a truly progressive/tech/avant-garde death metal sound. Beyond that, its eight tracks bled into each other to effectively become a single sixty-four-minute composition (an approach that would be perfected on their 2012 masterpiece, The Parallax II: Future Sequence). While that eclectic, multifaceted tactic was hinted at in the past—namely on “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” from 2005’s Alaska—Colors was the first time Between the Buried and Me justly found their winning formula and became the best at what they do.
VIDEO: Between the Buried and Me’s Colors Live
Obviously, hopes were high for its 2009 follow-up, The Great Misdirect. Once again produced by the genre’s go-to man, Jamie King (Ayreon, The Contortionist, Scale the Summit, Devin Townsend), BTBAM’s fifth studio outing offered an overall warmer and lighter vibe despite maintaining much of the volatile aggression fans expected. Looking back, vocalist / keyboardist / songwriter Tommy Rogers reflects, “We really started to hone-in on our more experimental, adventurous sound and showed the world that we are very comfortable in our own musical skin.” In a way, the LP actually feels like the spiritual precursor to 2015’s Coma Ecliptic (whereas Colors, the Parallax duo, and even last year’s Automata pair are aligned as bleaker and heavier mammoths).
Although it initially charted higher than its predecessor in America (#36 on the Billboard 200 vs. #57 for Colors)—and despite “Obfuscation” being popular enough to subsequently appear in two video games: Rock Band 2 and Saint’s Row 3—The Great Misdirect is still at least a little underappreciated by BTBAM devotees, critics, and stylstiic enthusiasts in general. (Admittedly, I seem to be in the minority of admirers who feel that everything after Colors is better than Colors.) Fortunately, though, it’s getting a 10th anniversary vinyl remaster/remix on November 22nd (via Craft Recordings), so it’s the perfect time to look back on what makes the sequence so special.
Just as Colors set the stage with the initially somber and sparse—and then brutally bombastic—””Foam Born (A) The Backtrack,” The Great Misdirect’s “Mirrors” is an almost bite-sized slice of tasty atmospheric introspection. Bizarre tones and a faint radio broadcast sets the backdrop for clean guitar arpeggios and strums as Rogers’ browbeaten self-reflection (“Everything’s a novelty / Everyone grows but me”) pours out. It’s not long, however, before the arrangement becomes a full-bodied and sun-kissed instrumental blend of regret and hope that’s surprisingly bright and fun. Specifically, bassist Dan Briggs’ jazz fusion background is clear as his bouncy resourcefulness supports Blake Richardson’s flamboyant syncopation; likewise, guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring provide aridly soaring lines that shimmer with substance. Even Rogers’ strange keyboard timbre eventually comes into play, cementing it as a significantly sophisticated yet accessible and gentle introduction.
Of course, the aforementioned “Obfuscation”—the album’s first single and a lyrical/musical continuation of “Mirrors”—storms in with BTBAM’s trademark six-string fury, percussive erraticism, and demonic vocals. Rogers growls are as idiosyncratically menacing as ever, and the music constantly changes with clever planning between hellish declarations and almost psychedelic transcendence. It’s as gorgeous as it is guttural, with an immensely catchy chorus and an alien diversion (surrounding a classy guitar solo) leading to one of the band’s most hypnotic rhythmic returns. In total, it’s a total progressive metal funhouse that never loses its appeal. (It’s no wonder, then, why Kevin McVey’s music video/short film visually represents “Obfuscation” with a UFO, a carnival, and a magic show, among other evocative things.)
VIDEO: Between the Buried and Me perform “Disease, Injury, Madness” in Anaheim, CA 11/25/11
At first, “Disease, Injury, Madness” is blisteringly hectic, but a moody transitions comes before long to take listeners on a calming trip. Rogers’s interlocking voices are simultaneously subjugated and encouraging—as if he’s his own guardian angel—as steady instrumental patterns enhance that emotional core. It’s quite soothing, inviting, and mesmerizing, and behind it all, a voice says in reverse, “You will sleep with the rest of the non-believers. If you disagree, you will sleep. You will sleep with the rest of the non-believers.” Lovely acoustic guitarwork then guides us back to the evil for a bit. However, a bit of Southern rock swagger—complete with Church organ and a whacky breakdown—momentarily dominates prior to mixing with more mystical solitude and an inventive bass solo. It’s the most ambitiously many-sided and captivating tune yet.
“Fossil Genera – A Feed from Cloud Mountain” begins with zany piano, a crushing backdrop, and various vocal impressions from Rogers (another prevalent characteristic that makes modern BTBAM quite singular). From there, it’s an irresistible whirlwind of delightfully strange hostility whose meticulousness and difficulty are mind-boggling. It arguably becomes a tad stagnant with this approach over the next few minutes, but luckily, the final third sees it transform into a beautifully triumphant and orchestral acoustic ode with some of Rogers’ best clean singing to date. That tone bleeds into the penultimate “Desert of Song,” whose windy soundscape and patient acoustic chords introduce Waggoner’s opening narration. His voice is more rugged than Rogers (who ultimately takes over, of course), helping to establish a comfortingly scorched ether as the ballad continues to afford an exquisitely dense and enthralling reprieve from the surrounding chaos.
VIDEO: Between the Buried and Me perform “Swim to the Moon” in Atlanta, GA, 01/09/10
At just under eighteen-minutes in length, closer “Swim to the Moon” remains BTBAM’s longest lone composition. It features guest vocalist Chuck Johnson and, according to Rogers, connects to Colors’ “Sun of Nothing” and kicks off the “Parallax Saga” that’s properly instigated by their next outing, 2011’s The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues EP. In and of itself—and at the risk of exhaustively breaking down every movement ad nauseum—suffice it to say that “Swim to the Moon” is the culmination of everything The Great Misdirect has offered thus far. Its preliminary collage of exceedingly intricate and lively musicianship gives way to Johnson’s hardcore/punk deviation in-between Rogers’ snarls. Afterward, the core sing-along melodic motif—”Slide into the water / Become one with the sea / Life seems so much smaller / Swim to the moon”—enchants. Amidst the ensuing madness, a banjo breakdown leads to a roaring organ solo, and the group revises earlier passages in creative ways. Thus, “Swim to the Moon” alone is a tour-de-force display of Between the Buried and Me’s boundless brilliance.
Although there are many other acts who attempt a similar style, Between the Buried and Me have spent the last decade or so reigning as the kings of it. No one else matches their unceasingly imaginative, technical, riveting, and all-around ingenious opuses of genre-blending buoyancy. Add in songwriting that’s more often than not both poetically relatable and prophetically epic and you have a truly one-of-a-kind artist. Although Colors was the first transparent catalyst for such marvels, The Great Misdirect took that promise and went all the way with it. Ten years later, it’s likely been bested by its successors—which is even more astounding—but there’s no denying just how seminal and satisfying it is in hindsight.
AUDIO: Between the Buried and Me The Great Indirect (full album)