The moment I’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. After several months of anticipation, I have finally wrapped my hands around Between The Buried and Me’s latest release. Well, figuratively, because I downloaded it off iTunes. I couldn’t begin to tell you how impatient I’ve been for this release in particular. Hearing so many rumors about its change in sound, “Coma Ecliptic” will surely stand out in their discography simply because of how different it is. Sure, they might shed some fans away, but I believe they will gain sevenfold in return. With a more direct, friendly, and quite frankly calmer approach to the progressive metal scene, I believe “Coma Ecliptic” is the album that can put BTBAM in the spotlight.
The group of five from North Carolina all return in this album, but return in a much lighter way. My first reaction to listening to “Coma Ecliptic” was in awe of how soft the album actually is. (Keep in mind, “soft” is subjective. There are still plenty of ear-splitting screams and guttural growls). In comparison to any of their prior albums, this album contains less chuggy guitar rhythm, fewer drum solos, and a lot more keyboards. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. I couldn’t help thinking “is this another Tommy Giles Rogers solo album, or is this BTBAM?”
From the start, “Node” begins with a simple keyboard arrangement next to Rogers’ clean vocals. The rest of the band chimes in after a while, and the album launches into a wild ride by the song’s end. For the duration of the album, Rogers’ clean vocals dominates “Coma Ecliptic.” I’d almost say it’s a 75/25 split between clean and dirty vocals, which not only makes it easier to listen to in a public setting, but also is probably easier on Rogers’ throat. I could tell that the clean vocals are performed with more confidence, with more strength and precision than any prior album. The song “King Redeem – Queen Serene” is the perfect example of the magnificence in his voice, approaching the likes of Freddie Mercury and Mikael Akerfeldt. I applaud the increase in quality of his vocals, which boosts this album up a notch.
What’s unmistakable about “Coma Ecliptic” is not only how much keyboard is injected into this album, but also why the band uses so much keyboard. Rogers has described this album as a “rock opera” from the beginning, with falsettos and baritones the likes of “Phantom of the Opera” coming to mind. A concept following a man in a self-induced coma, it is only necessary that the keys tie in each song, helping move the story along the way as the protagonist visits his past lives. The added keyboard effects and manipulation are a bonus to the cause, since it is more present on this album than any other BTBAM record, and also helps to add to the mood of the story. In fact, the whole of “Dim Ignition” and large portions of “Famine Wolf” heavily rely more on the manipulation than any other instrument. I can easily imagine the beeps and boops of a coma-inducing machine corresponding with the sound manipulation on this album. Along with the use of contemporary equipment, “Memory Palace” brings a sense of nostalgia, using keyboard progressions and effects heavily influenced by older rock bands like Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer. I personally enjoyed this change to a lighter, more airy style of progressive metal. I can’t think of too many bands that take this approach, and fully endorse the heavy use of keyboards in future BTBAM albums.
At this point, I imagine my readers asking “so, are there any other instruments on “Coma Ecliptic” besides the keys?” Of course there are! The songs “The Coma Machine” and “Memory Palace” (being two singles released off the album) contains some of the most complex, heaviest, and downright best material written for both rhythm and lead guitar. Aside the heavy chords and solos is the song “Turn On The Darkness,” which is my personal favorite off the record. The song utilizes clean guitar riffs and low piano arrangements, almost reminding me of “Octavarium” by Dream Theater. After a while, the rest of the band comes in, performing what they know best: dirty vocals and dual guitar riffs. Bassist Dan Briggs also incorporates plenty of bass grooves and solos throughout the album, easily taking the attention of the listener when he shines. There are moments in “The Ectopic Stroll” that are so close to breaking my car speakers, it compels me to buy a subwoofer just for the song alone.
Despite how amazing and different “Coma Ecliptic” is, I do have one complaint. Drummer Blake Richardson is one of my favorite percussionists out there. I’ve praised his name on this blog in the past. Many times I have listened to “Colors,” “The Great Misdirect,” and “The Parallax” albums, sitting in wonderment at the drum beats that rattle my head. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that same excitement for this album when it comes to Richardson’s drumming. I’m not sure if a) he purposely played down the drum sections because of the softer nature of this album, or b) what he played just didn’t grab my attention as much, but it was a little upsetting through my first couple listens. My complaint doesn’t mean that Richardson played badly by any means; I just wish there were better drum moments on “Coma Ecliptic,” ones like the ending solo of “White Walls” or the beginning of “Specular Reflection.” Those moments always grab ahold of me and invigorate me; I can’t help but replicate the drum beats on my steering wheel in those moments. That one change in the writing process would’ve launched this album above “The Great Misdirect” as my favorite released by them.
With all that said, I am not disappointed with Between the Buried and Me’s “Coma Ecliptic,” and neither will you. It may be different than anything they’ve ever released, but I could easily argue that it’s one of their best album they’ve released. Any fan of the band could see their change in direction coming since “Alaska,” which ultimately led to the penning of one amazing progressive metal/rock opera album. I recommend this album to fans of bands like Haken, Dream Theater, and TesseracT. You can support them by checking out their website, or following them on Twitter and Facebook. They are currently on tour to promote this record in North America, so I recommend any fan of them to buy a ticket. I’ve seen them live once with Coheed and Cambria, and they were simply amazing. For this tour, I even purchased their VIP package which includes a meet-and-greet with the band! I’m way excited to see them, and can’t wait to write about my experience when the time comes.
And to Tommy, Blake, Dan, Paul, and Dustie: See you in San Diego!
Update: Check out my concert review of their performance here.