Album Review: Coma Ecliptic by Between the Buried and Me
Posted by RiffRaff
Ever so rarely an album comes by that encapsulates the soul band. From a group’s particular style to even their namesake, these albums showcase all that is and has propelled them into the leaders of their genres. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son from Iron Maiden, Pelagial by The Ocean, and Panopticon by Isis are some examples of records that lay in this very small group with both fan and critical praise being forever lauded upon them. But the big daddy of them all belongs to Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater. It is of my opinion that no other album sums up a band as perfectly as that record does. The music connected to the narrative, the ‘dream’, which is played out through the album, the ‘theater’, is executed so perfectly and passionately I had never thought no other album could ever achieve the multitude of musical accomplishments as deftly as it has done. That is until Between the Buried and Me unleashed their latest record, Coma Ecliptic, unto the masses for me to listen, absorb, and consume ravenously.
BtBaM could not have chosen a more perfect theme to center their album around. The name Between the Buried, ie. the dead, and Me, ie. alive, always made me think of some kind of surreal limbo, or a coma. Things float around in a dreamlike space not always following strict laws of the living nor being all black like the realm of the dead. Coma Ecliptic follows the story of a man in a coma and the surreal world he has created in his unconscious dreaming. Their signature composition style, stream of conscious, at times directionless, approach is tied perfectly into the album’s theme. There are no rules, yet a thin thread holds it all together if the protagonist wishes to escape his nightmare. This creates a unique flow that no other BtBaM album has reached, though Colors comes pretty damn close.
Starting off like many BtBaM albums do, ‘Node’ is a mellow introduction to the journey to come as it crescendos into the prog rock explosion of ‘The Coma Machine’. What ‘The Coma Machine’ establishes is a rather new musical direction for a band that has evolved from deathcore beginnings. Touches of Rush and Dream Theater, ok, a lot of Dream Theater, express a move away from the brutality of metal and into even proggier territories. Tommy Roger’s much improved clean vocals add smoothness and more personality to the punch of his bright and bouncy keyboard riffs and flow in and out of Blake Richardson’s mind melting drum patters. By the time the more intense sections kick in, you understand that the growls are not there to create brutality, but instead add grandeur to the soundscapes surrounding it.
‘Dim Ignition’ takes the album down to darker areas with a really neat John Carpenter-ish, 1980s sci-fi flick starring Michael Biehn synthwave riff juxtaposed on top of some tribal drum beats. This smoothly transitions the music into the anxiety and urgency of ‘Famine Wolf’ which boasts itself as the ‘heaviest’ track on this journey. Here we hear the masterful guitar work of duo Dusty Waring and Paul Waggoner really shining with noodling leads and techy riffs. Bassist Dan Briggs does an outstanding job keeping all the song’s twists and turns in flow while keeping the low ends endlessly interesting as the track floats between outright metal to Mr. Bungle style weirdness to island jazz. ‘Queen Serene/King Redeem’ goes from tranquil to menacing back to tranquil filling BtBaM’s bi-polar quota and delivers some memorable moments. That weirdness finds its flow manifesting in my current favorite track and most fun off the record, ‘The Ectopic Stroll’, where the humor and high ability of BtBaM is showcased in top form. The prog rock jam session that unfolds at about the 3:30 mark is one of the neatest committed to a record and its insanity should be committed to an insane asylum.
‘Rapid Calm’ shows a lot of influence from Tommy Rodger’s solo work (it’s really good, you should check it out) and methodically builds up and up introducing new elements with each pass before it melts into some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll which gets exemplified in the following ‘Memory Palace’. In the ‘Memory Palace’ we are treated to some of the best guitar work from these guys yet as influences of prog’s greatest pop up ranging from Pink Floyd, Rush, and King Crimson. I even hear some heavy influence of Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson in the vocals.
The twisty-turny closing duo of ‘Option Oblivion’ and ‘Life in Velvet’ take all the elements and themes of all the earlier tracks and sum them up concisely and end this masterwork with a bombastic farewell. After I was done with my first spin I had not even realized that over an hour had passed by, which is a testament to some outstanding editing. I also didn’t even hesitate for a second to start the album all over again, and again, and again, and again.
In the weeks leading up to the release I listened to the complete discography of BtBaM to prepare my ears and mind. Multiple times I revisited what is regarded as their greatest album, Colors, to get a better understanding why I love that album so much and why it is so highly regarded in the metal community. Between unique songwriting, a sense of humor, engaging performances, and bouts of intensity and brutality contrasted on the serene, I would say that record is an achievement in near-perfection with just a few pacing issues holding it back. Coma Ecliptic goes above and beyond anything BtBaM have written before and delivers not only the most memorable album I’ve heard this year, but also in my entire life which includes nearly 30 years of metal fandom. A step away from near constant intensity and a focus on dynamic and flow shows a more direction orientated BtBaM, yet they still maintain the charm of their chaos without alienating those who desire more structure to their music. This will go down with Scenes from a Memory and Seventh Son as one of the god-tier records in my book. While they do wear the influences of their inspirations on their sleeve, Coma Ecliptic supersedes that and paves the way for BtBaM to join them in the Hall of Prog Rock Greats.
P.S.- The production and sound quality on the record is freakin’ superb in case you were wondering.