Between the Buried & Me – The Great Misdirect

“One of the most talented progressive rock bands today.”

Look on the cover of Between the Buried and Me’s newest record The Great Misdirect and you should see a sticker that says something to that note. Using the term “progressive ROCK” to describe this North Carolina quintet would be, roughly 75% of the time, a dire misnomer; when not fiddling around with an accordion or piano, this band puts out straight metal, sometimes bordering on grindcore-level intensity, despite a couple obvious influences from Pink Floyd, King Crimson and other classic progressive acts. Put simply, this isn’t your dad’s “prog.”

Across roughly the entirety of their discography, BTBAM have been characterized by their commitment towards one unifying characteristic: their general lack of commitment to continuity. Their penchant for rapid mid-song genre-shifting is especially prominent in their newest record, even when juxtaposed to the erratic “Colors,” their previous work. Admittedly, the idea of a band that can switch without cue from a jazzy piano bounce into distorted progressive death metal breakdowns sounds curiously appealing. More often than not, however, the band’s gratuitous employment of genre-jumping feels erratic, illogical, and even downright silly, leading to long-winded, amorphous songs that exhaust the listener rather than pull them in.

The album opens with clean guitar strumming on the track “Mirrors” with faint radio chatter in the background and vocalist Tommy Rogers solemnly whispering “Everything is a novelty, everyone grows but me.” This track swiftly introduces a lyrical theme that proves to be the most consistent element of the music, more or less consisting of solemn confessionals and ambiguous exhortations, such as in “Swim to the Moon,” in which, following Roger’s expressions of the gripping claustrophobia and desolation at the hands of the “grabbing authority” of his “peers,” he incites the listener to “Slide into the water” and “become one with the sea.” The lyrics, though much more eloquently than their peers, most often describe the nondescript teen angst that is all too prevalent in contemporary popular music. However, lyrics are not necessarily important in progressive metal, which generally takes a more instrumental approach, and so they neither help nor hinder, even during the clean, vocal-centered “choruses” squeezed in every now and then.

The fact that the second track, the 9-minute “Obfuscation” is probably the strongest on the record is an indicator of the group’s second guilty indulgence: ridiculously long songs. It’s no secret that this band shows strong similarities to Dream Theater. Like the renowned prog-metal band before them, BTBAM strive to have long albums with relatively few tracks. The band seems to lack, however, the discretion that makes similarly erratic groups like Cynic, for example, listenable. The problem with this is not so much that the songs are long, but that they are unnecessarily so, as many of the longer tracks, like “Disease, Injury, Madness,” display clear seams where the track could easily be separated into two separate tracks.  Most of the six songs on the record, just under an hour long, clock somewhere between 10 and 18 minutes. Nearly all of them, however, possess a tonal lack of continuity that makes their length feel more arbitrary than anything.

Dream Theater, to draw the comparison again, tend to fill their wide song windows with stiff structure and repetition as opposed to the inconsistency of Between the Buried and Me, who rarely, if ever, repeat any segment of a song throughout its tiresome length, with the exception of “Swim to the Moon” in which the aforementioned vocal line is repeated occasionally within the 18-minute song. Whether this is a good or a bad thing seems to be a matter of context; the recurring repetition in Metallica’s self-indulgently lengthy “Death Magnetic” is an aspect that annoyed many listeners, fan and stranger alike, but that of Dream Theater’s releases seems more of a selling point than a hassle to the band’s devout fanbase. BTBAM in contrast seem to have built their legacy upon their restlessness. The notorious genre-jumpers, though condemnable for the irrationality of their capricious song transitions, may just as easily be loved for it. In the end, it comes down to personal endurance to determine whether the pay-off is worth all the band’s overly-ambitious excesses.

by Mason “Just not my cup of tea” McGough

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1 Comment

  1. Reviews Update! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Between the Buried & Me – The Great Misdirect […]

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