Audio Mixer: Jens Bogren.
Recording information: The Basement Studios (01/2015-02/2015); The Fidelitorium (01/2015-02/2015).
Photographer: Aaron Strelecki.
Integration and expansion have always been the trademarks of North Carolina's Between the Buried & Me. This lineup, which has been together since the early 2000s, has leaned ever more toward prog with each successive release since 2007's Colors, and seemingly culminated in the two-chapter Parallax releases in 2011 and 2012. Those records utilized not only the math rock and technical death metal from the band's history, but also touched on jazz rock in a meld of sophisticated musical compositions. Coma Ecliptic is a concept album that "follows the wanderings of an unidentified man, stuck in a coma, as he journeys through his past lives...he enters each world and is offered a choice: stay, or move on to the next in search of something better, something more 'perfect'." The m.o. may be ambitious, but this is easily the most musically accessible record BTB&M have ever released. There is a conscious attempt to gather all of their various identities and at least engage (if not embrace) pop in the process. With its melancholy, lilting melody, set opener "Nodes" is graced by a Wurlitzer piano and synth strings framing Tommy Rogers' clean lead and harmony vocals. This is intro as pop song" culminating in the Brian May-esque (Queen) lead guitar breaks from Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring (and its not the only place where the classic rock guitarist or his band is referenced here). The cut segues into "Coma Machine" another place where the classic rock band is referenced. Initially at least, pop and prog come together before the tune explodes into a tech metal frenzy. Rogers' vocals alternate between clean and growling; they intersect with one another in loops, adding a multi-dimensional framework. Melodic guitar interludes are interspersed with fierce, knotty breakdowns amid a thrumming bassline and pummeling drum attack, even though the hook never quite disappears. On "Famine Wolf," a synth pulse greets angularly tuned guitars that pierce Rogers' sung/growled vocals and the track unravels with sheer heaviness. The first half of "King Redeem, Queen Serene" is a lilting, mournful ballad before gnarly, mathy guitars claim the center amid stop-and-start rhythm section cadences before speeding toward an anthemic climax. Longer jams such "Turn on the Darkness" and "The Memory Palace" (which meld proggy and melodic hard guitar rock -- think Porcupine Tree-meets-Rush) are deeply satisfying yet require repeated listening to absorb everything they contain. But not everything works. The album finishes strong with the soaring, prog metal in "Option Oblivion" and "Life In Velvet," that commences as a ballad but sprials off into hard rock grandeur with killer guitar breaks. Given its musical diversity, Coma Ecliptic is a surprisingly cohesive record. While employing many tropes and influences, Between the Buried & Me, come off sounding like no one but themselves; the album's accessibility adds another dimension to this band's already remarkable scope. ~ Thom Jurek