Between the Buried and Me, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: April 12, 2011
What is it about prog metal bands and two-part albums? Last year, the Ocean's one-two punch of Heliocentric and Anthropocentric topped my "Best of '10" list. Now, Raleigh, North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me are following suit with the release of The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, a three-song, 30-minute EP that serves as the first part of a two-release concept album about "two human characters who live in different planes of existence, separated by millions of light years.. [who] make decisions that will change their lives, and perhaps the course of the universe, forever." Or so it's described in a recent interview with guitarist Paul Waggoner.
If you think that sounds a bit grandiose, I wouldn't disagree. But, fortunately, BTBAM have the chops to match their ambition. Despite its brevity, Parallax is hardly a simplistic affair. The band has probably crammed more time changes and arcane chord progressions into this half-hour EP than most bands manage in a career, but it somehow never sounds chaotic.
The cinematic intro to "Specular Reflection" sets the tone for the EP, as dramatic keyboards, strings and choral vocals segue quickly into a Dillinger-esque math metal freakout - and that's just the first couple minutes. The song takes numerous twists and turns along the way, but BTBAM always seem to know when to rein things in with a 4/4 hardcore breakdown or a catchy chorus.
The rest of the EP follows a similar trajectory, veering from brutality to bliss and back. BTBAM is a metal band at their core, but that doesn't keep them from detouring into lush acoustic passages, jazzy, instrumental prog rock or even what sounds like a Russian folk dance. Vocalist Tommy Giles Rogers adeptly matches the band's aggression or lack thereof, providing growls and screams for the heavier moments and a soaring falsetto on the mellower parts that, thankfully, is much more Jon Anderson than Geddy Lee.
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Prog rock frequently gets knocked for its rigidity and excess, and such criticism isn't entirely without merit. But as such diverse bands as King Crimson, Radiohead and Tool have proven over the years, when it's done right, it can be as transcendent as the best improvisational blues jam. BTBAM have already caught the attention of prog metal geeks, but if they continue to make music as compelling as this, the rest of the world may soon catch on.