Sound — 9
Between The Buried And Me (aka BTBAM) came about at a time where modern metal as we know it now was being slowly built from the ground up. Blending Converge-like anger and disharmony, the budding sound of melody based metalcore, the more technical aspects of death metal at the time and a variety of more progressive traits, their sound has changed dramatically over their 13 years of releases, examples including the acclaimed "Alaska" and "Colors" with more recent releases becoming more and more diverse and progressive in their content.
"Coma Ecliptic" is certainly a far cry from their debut from all those years ago. When the hype train was called to start around September last year, "rock opera" became a bit of a buzzword, and boy, has it stayed true.
This album is perhaps a natural progression, but it eschews many aspects of BTBAM's more renowned, original sound. Gone are the inordinate amounts of blast beats, slam riffs and the overall "extreme" aspect of the earlier records. In place, we have a very modern prog metal record, similar in the vein of Haken or the more crazy sides of Dream Theater. Oh, and of course it's a concept album, how could it not be?
Thing is, this is actually a really good sounding record. I say that as a person who was introduced to BTBAM some 5 years ago at a live show and promptly ignored them for ages.
What struck me most first of all was the amount of musical crafting going on in just the first track "Node" alone. An inherently mysterious and inviting chord pattern on a Rhodes-ian keyboard introduces this ever growing and shifting album, an album that takes you on a journey of weirdness and wackiness with a slight touch of confusion and a feeling of "wat."
Clashing structures, twisted and bent harmonic concepts taken to an emotive and intriguing level, some seriously impressive instrument canoodling and a certain charisma that separates the bands identity from contemporaries. There are some gorgeous moments on this album. "King Redeem/Queen Serene" brings out a true melancholy through riffs and chords alone, shifting to this empowering and dramatically Opeth-ian track. "Rapid Calm" brings the piano build up of "Node" into its own track and bends it around some very sobering "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things"-esque clean sections, topped with one of Tommy Giles Rogers' most dreamy performances yet. "Option Oblivion" is, surprisingly perhaps, one of the more grounded tracks and it has some of the best guitar work on the album. And that freakin' outro, no need to spoil it.
Honestly, it's quite hard stating just how much depth this album has, from a musical perspective. It feels like a properly worked-over, stressed-over piece of art from start to finish.
I'd say there are one or two bad points here and there. I think that it certainly lacks consistency, in that very rarely will you hear the same part twice, although when you do, it's often at its most needed moment. The one biggest complaint I'd have is that the concept of the albums sound has been done before. Not necessarily better, but this kind of spastic, jumpy style has been a staple of '70s prog, Dream Theater perhaps also being the biggest name to use here as a reference point. But, BTBAM's take on it is still unique enough to stop it from becoming generic.
Although that raises the question of, is there generic prog? What would it sound like? Does it djent? Questions for later.
Lyrics — 8
As Mr Giles Rogers has been the sole vocalist of BTBAM, it's interesting to follow his development from album to album. Although not that much has changed from "The Parallax II: Future Sequence" in effect, this album has allowed him to breathe a lot of character into his performance. I've never been a great fan of his harsh vocals and honestly, he really hasn't changed much in that department, but his overall performance is pretty strong.
The Paul Masvidalian "dreamy cleans" are still his go-to point here (have you noticed how him and Giles-Rogers could be related?), but he adopts a lot of persona's on a track by track basis, given the album concept. They mostly work, although they might irk the more serious-minded of listeners. I liken these little sections to a slightly less over-the-top UneXpect. Some of the more flamboyant moments add a sense of fun to the more discordant tracks, such as on "Famine Wolf" where the band goes full Queen, although I still feel that his harsh vocals are either too harsh or not harsh enough, can't quite decide on which because there are times where both occur.
Lyrically speaking, "Coma Ecliptic" is, as mentioned, based around a concept. Not the most original idea, the premise being that it's about a man trapped in a coma and experiences events in past incarnations. To provide some context, Ayreon released "The Human Equation" which is an album with a similar concept and one that Arjen Lucassen spent a lot of time with on developing the story and characters and then implementing them into the album. "Coma Ecliptic" is not as dedicated, as it's just one guy doing all the characterizations but the instrumental side is much more exploratory. Still, the concept is executed pretty strongly and certainly fits the inherently bonkers musical base.
Overall Impression — 8
To sum up, I feel that its a very strong album. An abundance of pure joy, playfulness and scatter-brained charisma, moving entirely forward and with the sort of "care-for-the-craft" that sometimes gets a bit lost in the blur of modern metal records.
I'd say that if you weren't a fan before, this might be a good album to start with. It's a bit difficult to pin point why, but I think it's that there's a certain familiarity with the overall concept that any prog fan could identify with but at the same time, BTBAM's take on it is unique to them and one they do well.
Songs to look out for: I'd recommend listening to the whole thing in one go, but personal favourites for me are "King Redeem/Queen Serene," "The Ectopic Stroll," "Memory Palace" and "Option Oblivion."