Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review of "The Parallax II: Future Sequence" by Between the Buried and Me

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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

"Between the Buried and Mehave not made a name for themselves through playing it safe. Pushing the envelope of heavy music with each successive release, they have continually evolved in thrilling new directions while maintaining the honesty and integrity that has connected with so many listeners. With The Parallax II: Future Sequence, the first concept album of their career, the North Carolina based unit have delivered their most complex, ambitious, and accomplished work to date. "We're certainly not the average metal band - we write what we want to write, and we've never really tried to fit in anywhere," states guitarist Paul Waggoner. "With this record we held nothing back. We were excited to experiment and see where it took us, and working with a concept was a really interesting new challenge."

The concept was first introduced to the band's fans with 2011's The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues EP, which established the narrative's two characters, Prospect I and Prospect II, the story commencing with the events of Parallax II. Separated by millions of light years, the two men exist in ignorance of the other yet are intrinsically connected by a shared soul, which ultimately brings them together. "Both men exist in isolation, one because he runs away from the life that is his and the other when he leaves his dying planet in the hope of creating new life elsewhere, through the planting of souls," explains vocalist Tommy Rogers. "As the story progresses you realize they are actually the same person, and at the end of the journey they're responsible for destroying all life as they know it, reinforcing the idea that humanity is a destructive species, and that there's some kind of innate flaw about us that causes us to destroy everything we touch." While the story is very much based in fiction and grounded in the imagination of Rogers, it was important that the vocalist was able to emotionally connect with it, and relate it to his own life, thereby making it relatable for listeners. "That was probably the hardest thing for me, making sure I could find that connection. The main thing that these characters go through is confusion and isolation, and I think that's something every person deals with in their lives at some point. As a musician you spend a lot of time with your own thoughts, so despite the science fiction of it all it is still a very personal record."

Such an epic storyline demands a suitably grand and expansive soundtrack, and musically the record captures the sound of five men pushing themselves further than ever before. Having never fallen into the trap of prioritizing complexity for complexity's sake, Between the Buried and Me are renowned for their capacity for writing intensely complicated and often challenging music yet never losing sight of the importance of good songwriting, something that is demonstrated constantly across Parallax II's twelve tracks. With swathes of crushing riffs, dizzying leads and convoluted rhythms that shift in unpredictable directions, the record also boasts a great deal of melody that is never trite or obvious. Equally, there is a wealth of rich ambience and atmosphere suffusing the record, the combination of these qualities making for an immersive listening experience. "The EP was a very interesting challenge for us, because it was very concise. In a lot of ways we didn't necessarily get to experiment or expand on parts in the way that we usually do," Waggoner states. "With the full-length we really went for it, we left nothing on the table - if we came up with an idea we thought was cool we did it. It's an extremely dynamic record, it's over seventy minutes of music and never really settles into one style, and we've got some different instruments on there too. There's some banjo and mandolin and sitar, and we had friends come in and play some saxophone, and there's a flute solo on there too. It's still rooted in guitar, bass and drums, but there's some interesting other flavors on there as well, which is exciting for us as a band." While the project began with the concept being broadly sketched out, Rogers waited until the music was written before he began to write the lyrics, taking the various themes and ideas and making them work with the music in a cohesive manner. Written in a stream of conscious style, the lyrics take the form of the thoughts of the characters, allowing you an insight into their feelings rather than supplying a straightforward narrative, and it was important to the members that each song stand on its own merit and could be enjoyed when listened to apart from the whole. "I don't think you necessarily need to understand or even know the whole concept to be able to get something out of each of the songs here," Waggoner says. "It was important to us that we were very much aware of the whole, but to not get so caught up in it that any particular song couldn't stand up on its own."

Produced by the band - which is rounded out by guitarist Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs, and drummer Blake Richardson - alongside longtime collaborator Jamie King, the recording process was smooth, though labor intensive, if for no other reason than the sheer amount of material that had to be tracked. Stepping back from it, the band are proud of everything they have achieved.  "This whole process was a lot of work, and it's definitely the most rewarding piece of music we've ever written," states Rogers. "It's a very coherent record, and I think nowadays records are getting thrown out there without much thought put into them. I like that what we've done is kind of bring back the whole album feel, which was really important once but doesn't seem to be any more." With plans to play Parallax II in its entirety on forthcoming tours, the band hope this album introduces new fans to their music, yet they maintain the humble aspirations that have always driven them. "I'm a firm believer that if you create something that's unique and different there's always going to be a niche market for that. Our mentality is to keep doing what we're doing, writing music that challenges both us and the listener, and to keep playing to everyone who wants to see us," Waggoner states. Rogers concurs with this, adding "I think what we do speaks loudly to people. We're a very genuine band, we do what we want because we love doing it, and I think that's what people want. They want honesty in their music, and they want music that comes from the heart rather than comes from a computer, or that is made by people motivated by making money. We're just going to keep writing the best songs we can and with that continue to grow, and hopefully through doing that more and more people will find us.”

Between the Buried definitely know how to make me over listen to an album as “The Paralax II” has been something I have been listening to non-stop. The album starts on the very beautiful short acoustic intro track “Goodbye to Everything.” This leads straight into the next track “Astral Body,” which if I may say so my self has a very amazing music video. It is a very technical and progressive track, with incredible guitars. The contrast between riffs was intense and was always entertaining. “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest” really gave me a Meshuggah style feel to how coordinated but how hard to follow the heavy parts were, especially the chugging and technical parts. The bass in this track was great as well, especially when you can focus on it by itself. There is a very groove style bit a minute and a half in which was interesting. The vocals on this track are well done with a mix between growls and clean styles.

“Extremophile Elite” is led into very nicely with the short interlude “Autumn.” The beginning of “Extremophile…” is very intergalactic space sounding with its keyboard and guitar beginning. There is a really good mix of heavy and clean in this track. The guitars on this are almost too good to be true and the bit in the middle is really interesting. The xylophone bit almost half way through is awesome and is then mimicked on the guitar which is very epic. The chorus of this track is very catchy. “Parallax” is a short little track with mellow guitar and spoken word. “The Black Box” is another short one as well with piano and clean vocals. It gives you a short break from the insane ten minute behemoths.

“Telos,” is another great long track with chugging bits, technical riffs, and mellow breaks. The mellow bit in the middle reminded me of the Trioscapes’ “Gemini’s Descent”, which is followed by a evil sounding part that may even be Walter Fancourt (Trioscapes’ saxophonist) or just a keyboard part. I know he makes an appearance somewhere on the album but differentiating between instruments is very difficult with how epic everything sounds as a whole. The clean vocals on this track are very calming and the solo at the end is awesome. “Bloom” is another short track that is led in nicely from the track prior. It’s a very weird three minute piece, including technical and very... interesting parts. One in particular is a surfer style riff with accompanying “ba-da-ba-ba” singing, which is odd but very hilarious.

Leading in nicely from the track prior is the ten minute long, “Melting City.” There is a nice mellow bit done on a flute and the technical guitar parts are amazing. The bass lines on this track are amazing, especially the one three quarters the way through with lead over top as it was really relaxing. When you thought ten minutes was long, throw that mentality out the window as “Silent Flight Parliament” is a whopping fifteen minutes. This track may be my favourite off the album, but it is so hard to choose as this whole album is a masterpiece. The opening riff, with the flow of the drums and the piano piece over top is incredible, especially when the lead plays along. The technical riffs are very well done as they have been the whole album. The several different parts of this song that meld together quite nicely are probably what makes this so enjoyable because they are so interesting and switch between heavy and more relaxing and soft. I especially like the parts half way through to the end. Ending the album we have an extended, heavier reprise of the album opening track which is a very great way of bringing this album to an end.

If you are not a fan, what the hell is wrong with you? (I have been asking myself and yes I am a hypocrite) This album is a very good introduction to the band. With a mix of heavy, technical, clean, and just straight up odd and obscure bits, Between the Buried and Me is a very well rounded band with incredibly talents musicians all around. There is not a single member in this band that can be overlooked and that is something that a band should be proud of. I highly recommend this album!

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