Between The Buried & Me – ‘Coma Ecliptic’ Album Review

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When the press release fails to accurately summate the contents of a record, you know that you’re going to have difficulties. When the artist in question happens to be those monumentally complex prog-metallers Between the buried and me, you know you’ve really got problems, especially as the band’s last effort was the unbelievably obtuse, yet spectacularly rewarding ‘The Parallax II: Future sequence’. This, the band’s seventh full-length outing, is at least as ambitious as its forebear, but there the comparisons cease, for ‘Coma Ecliptic’ is yet another giant leap forward for a band who set great store by taking their listener on a journey with each of their works. Dramatic, conceptual, utterly spellbinding, ‘coma ecliptic’ is an exciting new chapter in the ongoing saga of BTBAM.

Opening with the peaceful ‘node’, BTBAM immediately set preconceptions to one side by appearing in shimmering Porcupine Tree mode, singer and keyboardist Tommy Rogers layering his dreamy vocal over a simple piano refrain. The song slowly builds, the band taking their time to appear, and when they do it is with all the pomp and circumstance you’d expect from ELP, with Brian May-esque harmonised guitars leading the charge. ‘The coma machine’ is a huge prog epic that draws upon the likes of Dream Theater and Incura for inspiration, with its swathes of chugging guitar, musical theatre piano and Blake Richardson’s ever-inventive percussive blasts. It’s heavy, but not in any conventional sense, the band wrapping their guitars around the listener and juxtaposing the moments of bombast with stripped back passages of some beauty. The musicianship is nothing short of astonishing throughout and the music here is genuinely progressive, drawing happily upon the music of the past but pushing it forward into new, hitherto unsought directions, marking BTBAM out as something truly special in the prog-metal scene. A brief, heavily electronic segue, ‘Dim ignition’ plays out like a John Carpenter soundtrack before the band head off into eerie Pink Floyd territory with ‘famine wolf’, a minor-key nightmare that cannot fail to impress. It’s a technical marvel, a masterpiece of taught riffing, intelligent lyricism and awkward time signatures and it veers neatly between abstruse melodic meandering and full-bore heavy metal. There are so many plot twists here you need a slide rule to figure it all out and so, head spinning, we head off to the beautiful ‘King redeem – queen serene’, an acoustic-led lament that could easily fit on a Caravan or Floyd record. It’s a wonderfully understated piece of work, something which makes the second half of the song all the more shocking as the band unleash the album’s heaviest moment yet.

Slowing the pace once more, the dark, echoing introduction of ‘Turn on the darkness’ induces ominous feelings before the band head off into full-blown Dream Theater territory, all shimmering synth and crunchy guitar work. Once again the band cleverly incorporate many elements whilst instinctively shying away from falling into the trap of sounding like anyone other than themselves and as the song undertakes its epic twists and turns it is impossible not to feel admiration that intelligent arrangement of the song. ‘The Ectopic stroll’ with its incongruous piano and arcing guitar lines is a great piece of musical theatre, Tommy inhabiting a character in the way few singers have managed since Ian Anderson donned the guise of Aqualung whilst the band indulge in a rare playfulness bringing to mind Fantomas’ bizarre ‘suspended animation’. The lengthy ‘rapid calm’ sees the band journeying through a wide range of metallic pastures, veering from hypnotic ambient passages to full blown metal opera and everything in between. With Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring turning somersaults on the guitar it’s a daring piece that crams in more ideas than most bands manage over the course of an album before ‘memory palace’ sees the band tearing into a track that sounds like Rage Against the machine jamming on Dream Theater and Suicidal Tendencies tunes in a basement. The album wends its way towards its close with the fast paced ‘option oblivion’ before the piano-led coda of ‘life in velvet’ brings the curtain down.

Whilst still very much in the realms of the heavy, it seem BTBAM have moved ever further into the realms of theatre with this stunning release. I’ve only been through the album twice, thus far, but believe me when I say I have barely scratched the surface of its endless complexities. The devil, they say, is in the detail and here there is a wealth of detail for fans to unpick. The musicianship is in a class of its own, the arrangements endlessly inventive, and whilst it is easy to pick out reference points, BTBAM are careful to always place their own unique spin upon proceedings. In years to come people will still be picking over this powerful, intelligent monster of an album, not least because the band have managed to successfully place numerous moments of head banging delight seemingly in spite of the heavy duty conceptual thread that runs through the album. ‘Coma Ecliptic’ is a prog-metal masterpiece and one of the year’s very finest albums, make sure you track a copy down.

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