Pushing Progress: Between The Buried And Me one-ups metal once again

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Whether it’s from a musical or thematic perspective, adventure always manages to find Between The Buried And Me. Throughout their entire career, they’ve possessed the innate ability to churn out elaborately constructed albums with expansive themes, all rooted in the dense artistic flair they’ve developed in 15 years as a band.

Following up their previous effort in The Parallax, a tightly-woven progressive metal composition clocking in at over 100 minutes between an EP and full-length, the metal players have become addicted to the flavor of new direction. In Coma Ecliptic, they shifted their sound a bit, taking a more piano-intensive, melody-focused route.

“I think with this record from day one, it was a little different for us,” begins vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers. “It was a lot more melody-based. We really started kind of approaching songs a little differently than we normally do, and it instantly was exciting for us. It felt really good, and it felt really natural for us.”

The band is known to spend a lot of time on their records, but this one managed to be even more work than The Parallax series. Some of it may have been the stylistic shift, but Rogers always finds the most intensive part to be the tweaking and changing of all the different elements, and this record was no exception.

“We spend a lot of time getting everything exactly how we want,” he says, explaining that writing is his favorite part of being in a band. He finds that on this record especially, “We really came into our own and created something cool. It’s a huge process, but it’s something that—after all these years—we really have down, and we work really, really well together as a team. Our writing experience is great.”

This time around, the frontman feels the band wrote in a “different vein, in what’s not always comfortable.” Bassist Dan Briggs wrote a lot of the piano material on the record, even writing some parts with piano in mind first. The approach led the final product to sound and feel different—a push into more unique territory where thick guitars and screams are still aplenty, but with the band trying new things in many spots.

“When you’re so used to writing a guitar riff and you scratch that and say, ‘I’m going to start something on piano this time,’ and build off piano and write a huge piece around piano, it becomes something a little different,” he says.

Another forward step for the quintet was creating the lyrical concept behind the album. Coma Ecliptic is the story of a man who lives in a future where the medical ability to live in past lives is possible. However, despite his wide array of experiences, often disorienting ones, he realizes by the end of the record that he was just in a coma the entire time.

“Concept albums are tricky,” the frontman admits. “I was hesitant. I think it can get cheesy at times. And the way I approach it, I try to write stories that are tasteful, but a little bit off-the-wall.”

After writing several storylines, Rogers ran with the one about the man in the coma because of the way it fit snugly with the music. It opened up a lot of freedom for the songwriter when it came to the diversity of the record instrumentally and the ability to write stories within a story.

“[In] each past life, I could make it get really wild and weird or make it get really dark and mellow—all of these different lives I could create with the mood and the music,” he explains. “That really helped me stay really creative, and it was fun to get to create all these different worlds he experienced.”

The sci-fi approach lyrically, held intact by a swarming sense of strangeness, was inspired in part by The Twilight Zone TV series and the work of director David Lynch. Songs like “Dim Ignition” are built solely on eerie keyboard sounds and winding vocals, while in others, like the smashing, yet complex “King Redeem/Queen Serene,” the mystery of the narrator’s experiences is incorporated by percussion and piano parts.

“As far as imagery and the mood [Lynch] creates, that was something I thought the story needed,” admits Rogers. “It needed that confusing, kind of uneasy feeling, like, ‘What the hell is going on?’”

Along with the musical makeup of the record, Rogers felt the art and packaging was the perfect companion. For the art, the band went with a photography route this time, and they hoped to tell the album’s story through a sequence of scenes they envisioned.

It came out so cool,” he says. “I think it fits the lyrics and the music so well. I think just everything’s so cohesive and works well together. I couldn’t be happier.”

Many things about Coma Ecliptic show the typical side of Between The Buried And Me, with powerful riffs and vocals intricately woven around them. But as the band has found the ability to progress a style of music often described by the term “progressive,” they’ve shown on this record the beauty of change in the way it’s allowed them to grow.

I think as musicians, when you’re in a band for as long as we’ve been, you learn so much from every record you do and every project you do,” he explains. “Each time you write with someone, you’re learning, and you’re learning something about yourself.”

With critically acclaimed albums like Alaska and Colors in their catalog, the quintet has gained much support in the public eye. While their newest work has maintained passionate support as always, it’s also brought some dissent. Rogers understands the difficulty in accepting change, but feels it’s brought positive results throughout the band’s career.

“I think we’re very lucky we have fans that stand by us trying new things,” he says. “We’ve always, even from day one, tried to push the envelope a little bit. By growing that and showing our fans that we’re going to do that, it’s prepared everyone to see what’s going to happen.”

Rogers and the rest of the band always take the future day-by-day, so part of the excitement of their career is the way that the future is unpredictable and open to explore. Paralleling their recent musical endeavor, the frontman hopes the way the group pushed themselves can breathe new life into the listening experience, through all of its musical and conceptual twists and turns.

“I think it’s boring when you get a record from a band and are like, ‘Oh, yeah, I knew that’s what it was going to sound like,’” Rogers says. “When I get a record, I personally enjoy putting it on and not knowing what’s going to happen.” S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #47.