Few progressive metal bands are as imaginative, idiosyncratic, and technically precise as Between the Buried and Me. Having attained massive success with the release of their fourth LP, Colors, in 2007, and subsequently gained even more fans with 2009’s The Great Misdirect and 2011’s The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues (an EP), the group was already positioned as one the top acts in the genre. However, as amazing as these efforts still are, they feel like mere warm ups when compared to last year’s The Parallax II: Future Sequence.
A 72 minute narrative song cycle, the album took every one of their beloved trademarks (intricate guitar work, frantic percussion, incredible dynamics, infectious melodies, conceptual continuity, and eclectic timbres) to the next level; in fact, not only is it the band’s best work by far, but it’s probably the greatest metal album I’ve ever heard. Naturally, seeing it performed live would be a dream come true for many fans (including myself), and that’s just what happened last Saturday night, when the quintet adorned the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia. It was a mind-blowing experience, to say the least.
Opening for Between the Buried and Me were three top-notch acts: The Safety Fire, The Contortionist, and The Faceless (yes, metal and definitive articles go hand-in-hand). Honestly, given the context, they all felt a bit like BTBAM Jr., as they each wielded a similar bag of schizophrenic tricks. Of the trio, The Contortionist stood out the most, as they exuded an exceptional level of dynamic shifts, emotive segues, and melodic intrigue. The Safety Fire wasn’t far behind, though, with their bassist seeming especially virtuosic, while The Faceless, despite an uneven mix (Michael “Machine” Keene’s clean vocals were almost inaudible), put on a hell of a performance. Their macabre, orchestral segues were especially appealing.
About a half an hour after The Faceless finished, the lights dimmed, images of spaceships were projected onto the stage, and one of the two main characters from The Parallax spoke about his doomed journey in space. After building some more anticipation, the opening guitar chords and silky melody of “Goodbye to Everything” appeared, and the audience sang along with every word. From there, they played the rest of the album without really stopping, which is incredible considering that its arrangements are staggeringly complex (so you’d expect them to need a short break every so often). I’ve listened to the record dozens of times, and its depth and difficulty still boggle my brain; seeing it performed live (without a single mistake) was even more inconceivable. Of course, the crowd was quite dedicated and energetic, bobbing their heads to every rhythmic shift and percussive break, which made it feel like a very communal experience. For an encore, they played “White Walls” from Colors, which obviously went over quite well.
Visually, the show was your typical array of syncopated colored lights and simple animation on backdrops. Still, the fact that they were able to coordinate the lights to match such sporadic playing was very impressive. Together, the lights and animation made the music feel even more vibrant, which is all anyone could really ask for. Overall, BTBAM continues to be just as thrilling live as it is in the studio; the band gave an immaculate performance at the TLA, and I can’t wait to see them again.