Thursday, October 4, 2012

Album Review: Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax II: Future Sequence

Album Rating: B+
Do you feel like taking 2012’s Between the Buried and Me seriously? This is the most important question regarding The Parallax II: Future Sequence, because the answer vastly influences your opinion on the album.

On one hand, there’s plenty of reason to believe Raleigh’s premier progressive metal quintet is starting to take itself seriously. The Parallax II makes an obvious effort to mend the flaws the group is infamous for, and the album embraces tighter songwriting, more concise transitions and tamer instrumentation. There are even songs that are less than three minutes! Mind you, they’re mostly interludes, but their existence at least proves an effort on the band’s part to address their fans’ concerns. The actual songs - the full-length ones, clocking in at over ten minutes - are tightly knit, shifting between dynamics naturally. This delicate balance is exemplified by each individual musician, treading the tightrope between proficiency and humility remarkably well. In debut single “Telos,” drummer Blake Richardson meticulously works his snare drum during a tense moment that could have easily turned into chaos. Rudiments your high school percussion teacher could have taught you, utilized for a much greater purpose. Only moments earlier, a whistle declared tightly syncopated mayhem, a sign of the band being vividly aware of where the song’s going.

These are all signs of a band maturing, and signals that the group wants to be taken seriously. Yet there’s an underlying curiosity about The Parallax II that suggests Between the Buried and Me are just fucking with their fanbase. Think about it - the evidence is hidden throughout their discography, originating in the form of the infamous circus interlude in “Sun of Nothing”, taking root throughout The Great Misdirect and surfacing in The Parallax II in the form of an entire song, the blatantly silly “Bloom.” It’s fun to hear what Mr. Bungle would sound like as a metalcore group efficiently replicating four-bar blues - don’t get me wrong - however, the song and its accompanying absurdity exist in frivolity, and this contrasts sharply with the idea Between the Buried and Me push here, a concept of, well, “blooming.” This is the most fundamental problem with The Parallax II: Future Sequence, that it defines itself then lobbies against the established definition furiously.

Between the Buried and Me’s latest offering also suffers from redundancy, and this can be attributed towards its lofty runtime. The Parallax II carries most of its paramount moments in its first 45 minutes, leaving the rest of the album to creatively flounder. “Melting City” and “Silent Flight Parliament” are the main culprits, establishing an indecisive progressive style that struggles to define itself. Both tracks have questionable transitions and puzzling songwriting decisions, and are unnecessarily grandiose in scope. Whereas the overall space theme (common ground in progressive metal) is tolerable in smaller doses, these tracks bask in the concept, and drown because of it. Other problems plague the songs, too; “Melting City” is about ruined with its terribly cheesy chorus, crippled by Tommy Rogers’ overproduced singing. “Silent Flight Parliament” just can’t decide when it should end, meandering from one half-baked idea to the next for more than fifteen minutes. The most frustrating element to these tracks ending the album is that they could been abbreviated immensely.

So is Parallax II the album last year’s EP implied it would be? As a whole, the album is less powerful than its shortened predecessor. Here there’s all the time in the world to experiment, and just as much time to trip up and to insert redundant passages. However, it’s important to note that Future Sequence contains a few of the best tracks the group has released thus far. “Astral Body” is an exercise in conciseness, and also the first genuinely happy song Between the Buried and Me have made. The heavier heritage of the group is utilized incredibly well here, too; the song’s heaviest moment is rationally placed, and unforgettable in terms of raw execution. The album’s various styles are interesting, too: “Extremophile Elite” begins with a bold synth line that brings Dream Theater to mind, while “Telos” recalls the Alaska era vividly with its titanic riffs. There may be inconsistency problems with the album, but at least the unforgettable moments make the voyage worth it.

It seems Between the Buried and Me finally understand how to combine their heritage and experience with their influences, which makes The Parallax II: Future Sequence as electrifying as we imagined it to be. As always, however, more material exists than necessary as the group tinker with their sound, and this diminishes the overall effectiveness of their latest offering. However, the album has enough nostalgic material to keep the diehard fans happy, and enough innovation to sate the hunger of curious progressive fans. We’ve had an abundance of time to worry about The Parallax II and its quality, but in the end we should’ve remembered Between the Buried and Me know how to impress.

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1. Goodbye to Everything
2. Astral Body
3. Lay Your Ghosts to Rest
4. Autumn
5. Extremophile Elite
6. Parallax
7. The Black Box
8. Telos
9. Bloom
10. Melting City
11. Silent Flight Parliament
12. Goodbye to Everything (Reprise)

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