While Michigan fought its way out of the winter, Between The Buried And Me reminded Grand Rapids concertgoers metal still matters in 2022.

As Michigan battles through the disappointment that follows the first false start of spring, artists traveling through the midwest have a hard challenge ahead. We’ve barely seen the sun this calendar year, and every time we do, the days that follow are among the worst in recent memory. Our people are exhausted in a way that only the arrival of consistently warm weather can cure, and until that happens, people tend to be cold. 

An explosion of sound and technical prowess, Car Bomb is a rare example of a band whose heaviness more than lives up to the promise of its name. The band’s prompt appearance at 7 PM on March 9 welcomed concertgoers to a night devoted to the craft of metal. Much like the evening’s headliners, the men of Car Bomb are the horologists of their field, blending the unpredictability of hardcore with the precision of more progressive rock genres. It’s as much a performance as an experimental showcase of what is possible with sound. How far can we take it? How catchy and infectious, yet meticulous, can one song become? Where is the limit?

“I think this is our first time in Grand Rapids,” commented vocalist Michael Dafferner after the first few cuts. He thanked the crowd for arriving early and BTBAM for the opportunity before diving headfirst into another series of tracks, each slightly heavier than the last.

But the quality of any metal show is not judged solely on the heaviness or even the band’s quality on stage. The audience determines everything, and those gathered in Elevation responded to the carefully constructed eruption of sound unfolding onstage with the sort of reverence typically reserved for headliners. Fists were in the air while hair was swinging from the headbangers gathered on the rail, and crowd participation filled in gaps left by the often deafening music. 

Car Bomb didn’t need to bring an additional layer of comedy to the night, but they did that as well. Between Dafferner’s joking remarks about the fake stories behind the music and the set-long plot involving him and the crowd’s growing demand to see his calves, Car Bomb had the audience in stitches whenever they weren’t fiendishly consuming the group’s signature brand of slam. 

The back half of the band’s set found the group digging into the more melodic elements of their catalog, but never at the cost of the energy. It was a note-perfect and fitting way to begin transitioning into the evening’s big draw, even if the crowd would have another 30 to wait before they took the stage.

Between The Buried and Me

Photo credit: Benjamin Howell

Appearing bathed in steady white lights, Between The Buried And Me got straight to work with “The Double Helix of Extinction,” a standout from 2021’s Colours II. The blindingly bright light juxtaposed the all-black attire the group wore flawlessly, and it served to reset the venue’s energy. The crowd was larger now, with several dozen having joined the main floor crowd since Car Bomb left the stage. They weren’t present to witness what had come before, but by the end of that song, they too were absorbed into the increasingly frenetic energy of the room.

Critics of rock and metal love to cite presumed generational divides between bands and sounds as proof such music lacks the community of other genres experience. The crowd in Elevation said otherwise. As BTBAM thundered through “Revolution in Limbo” and “Fix The Error,” the now flashing white lights revealed a room comprised of people from all walks of life. Young metalheads with fire in their eyes lined the front row, while much older and more affluent fans sat at reserved tables in the wings. Between then was a melting pot of music fans as varied as any crowd you’re likely to find. 

The only common denominator among fans of Between The Buried And Me, Car Bomb, and this corner of metal generally is a shared understanding that the people on stage are doing something special. Maybe they can’t covey what it is about metal that speaks to them specifically, but they are aware of that intangible thing that makes art matter. It’s a feeling you get when you experience something, either through creation or consumption, that alleviates the innate sense of loneliness settled in the pit of our soul. 

You’ve probably wondered why you find yourself drawn to a song or group throughout your life. I wish I could explain it better. Maybe I don’t have to because you’re already aware of what I’m talking about, even if you don’t realize it. Sometimes you will find a lyric or mood that helps forge an obvious connection, but in my experience, those instances are rare. More often than not, those feelings are rooted in something unique to each song and group, not to mention the person.

In this instance, as best as I can figure, that thing is the inherently celebratory nature of BTBAM’s catalog. Regardless of themes or tempo, any era or song seems born of a natural curiosity for experimentation. Much like a painter working without a reference, the band’s music often feels plucked from the very ether of the universe. They are not making something as much as they allow themselves to be vessels for whatever sonic arithmetic the cosmos chooses to bestow upon us. Their ability to decode and translate that message may vary from release to release, but the mission itself never changes. 

Standing in the back of the room that night, I couldn’t help reflecting on the legacy Between The Buried and Me had created. They’ve seemingly always been a shining star of the modern metal community, but the band finds themselves among an increasingly small group of peers each year. The pandemic could have easily pushed them out of music entirely, as it did many others, but the band doubled down on their commitment. Watching them masterfully execute complex songs while bouncing around stage proved their two years in isolation was anything but time wasted. I dare say the BTBAM of today is the best and most agile the group has been in a decade, and their passion for the craft has never been more evident.