Between the Buried and Me @ Summit Music Hall

Before starting this review I decided to go back and check out the review I wrote the first time I saw Between the Buried and Me back in January of last year. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself or anything. Turns out I didn’t have much to say back then, in fact the review was pretty light on any content at all and I’m really surprised I even posted it. It does show I’ve improved my review writing skills over the past 15 months though, so that makes me feel good. 

Between the Buried and Me are such a unique band in that they mix so many styles of music into something that the word ‘progressive’ just cannot encompass. This style is somewhat polarizing in the metal world and can make it difficult to book bands that compliment this brand of extreme music. The first time I saw them it was a prog-fest with bands like Scale The Summit, Devin Townsend and Cynic and everyone in the audience seemed to be on the same level…a little bit geeky, a little bit metal and a whole lot of passion for technicality. Everyone passed the endurance tests of 15+ min songs with flying colors. The second time I saw them the crowd was much less amicable. Any band that shares a stage with High On Fire, Baroness and Mastodon in Oakland, California better know what they are doing, especially when the mostly drunk audience are already beaten and bloody from the 7 bands that came before….especially when you are following hometown stoner superhero Matt Pike. BTBAM weren’t prepared for all that and while they did power through their set against threats being lodged at the stage of what would happen if Mastodon did not come on soon, this was not the ideal atmosphere for their experimentation.

Wednesday night at Summit Music Hall struck a balance somewhere in between those two prior shows. BTBAM rode into town with their new labelmates The Ocean and Job For A Cowboy along with the local support of Denver’s notorious Cephalic Carnage. On paper this makes perfect sense. Metal Blade stacking the bill with two of their top selling (very different sounding) bands in hopes of driving ticket sales and adding on a relatively unknown band for exposure. Tack on some ‘rocky mountain hydro-grind’ for some local flavor and you’ve got yourself a bill that’s likely to sell out…and sell out it did. But when it came to the music itself, there was somewhat of a disconnect between the diverse acts.

The Ocean Collective (aka The Ocean) are an experimental/progressive band from Berlin and they are the reason I walked into Summit Music Hall earlier than I have ever been to a show. After reading and hearing good things about this band I downloaded some of their stuff the day before the show and really liked what I heard, so I didn’t want to miss their set. I’m glad I didn’t, even though it meant showing up at 7:00pm. More like BTBAM than any other band on the bill, The Ocean started out as an instrumental band with countless members but has since added vocals and slimmed the line-up down to a manageable size. Their music is very melodic, mixing in elements of progressive, metal and jazz. They mix clean vocal with metalcore type growls, but never in a way that is distracting. Like BTBAM they have an uncanny ability to incite a violent pit one minute only to have the crowd swaying and humming along the next. Lead vocalist, Loïc Rossetti, was a born performer as well. His clean vocals are as convincing as his growls and he has perfected the art of stage diving…jumping into the crowd no less than 5 times and getting back on stage in a matter of seconds. I highly recommend this band and their 35 min set was a real highlight of my night.

Cephalic Carnage is a band I have been hearing about since I moved to Denver a couple years ago. Members of the band can be seen at most shows around the area and everyone seems to be at a loss for words when asked to explain what they sound like. I have since heard their form of ‘death/grindcore with a sense of humor’ and I have to admit it’s not my thing. But supporting local acts is definitely something I’m always about, so I was looking forward to my first Cephalic Carnage experience and I was not let down. The songs sounded like grindcore to me, nothing great or bad about them, but then I really started paying attention and I realized how technical these guys are. I am not a musician, so I don’t have to vocabulary to describe what they were doing up there, but it was impressive. Especially if they were as drunk and stoned as they advertised themselves to be. I wouldn’t be able to stand in the audience much less be on stage performing impossible acts with instruments if I were in their state of mind. Neighbors fucking your cats, endless cycles of violence and free beer were the themes of the night for Denver’s own and they had the hometown crowd they deserved for their short set. In fact, I think Cephalic Carnage were one of the major reasons the show sold out because neither band that followed had the main room as packed. ‘Keep it Colorado!

In between CC and Job For A Cowboy they were playing Khia’s My Neck, My Back (I did have to look this up based on the lyrics). Was this a joke? Did they think this generation of metalheads, this MySpace generation that spawned bands like Job For a Cowboy, were open minded enough to listen to female rap while waiting for death metal? Whatever it was, it was a mistake and caused many to head outside while the stage was being set. It was at this time that I took advantage of the fact that I wasn’t driving and switched from beers to cocktails. I then proceeded to drink my way through the next set, a move that proved fatal the next morning.

Job For A Cowboy are arguably more popular than BTBAM. They have sold a shitload of albums for this genre of music, hitting respectable numbers on the Billboard charts and even spawning SpongeBob videos on youtube. But I just don’t like them. I’ve tried. I’ve listened to their albums, I’ve tried to differentiate between their songs and I gave them a chance live. They turned the crowd into a living, breathing mass of destruction, they win the award for biggest pit of the night and I did catch myself banging my head along with everyone else…but overall, every song sounded the same to me and I really don’t like Jonny Davy’s vocals. I know people will disagree with me here so I will state again, this is just my opinion. If you feel different about their set and want to write something up, please submit and I’d be happy to post your point of view.

It was only 9:15pm by the time the last opening band left the stage and I was considerably buzzed, maybe even a little drunk. They decided against hip-hop this time around and the headliners were introduced by the much more appropriate Guns ‘N Roses, Great White and Rush.

As I mentioned before, I am not a musician so it’s very hard for me to explain highly technical bands such as Between the Buried and Me. This is a band that looks like The Killers meets AFI. A band influenced as much by 80’s metal as Pink Floyd and Rush. This is a band that can be extremely hardcore at one minute and sound like 311 the next. Funk, soul, metal, jazz, classical…it’s all here. Clean vocals sung in high falsetto followed by death growls. The band was named after a Counting Crows lyric. On paper I should hate this band. But somehow they ingest all of this and spew it back out at you in a way that makes every cell in your body want to combust. Their last full length album, The Great Misdirect, was one of my favorites of 2009 and their new 30 min/3-song EP has been in heavy rotation since it came out, but you really can’t understand the full effect of this music until you experience it in a live setting. I know the ‘death’ metallers in the crowd have a hard time with this band and that explains why we all had a little more elbow room during the headlining set, but if you give this stuff a chance you’re sure to find something you like.

The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues is a concept album of sorts. There is a story in there about two beings from parallel universes or something. But none of that really matters because there’s no way to really follow the narrative. That’s the great thing about this band though, they write cerebral lyrics but they don’t let that get in the way of the music. This is intelligent metal only if you want it to be. But if you don’t care about the back story, you can just get in place, buckle up and get ready for the carnival ride that is Between the Buried and Me.

This ride first took us through the 3-song Parallax before delving into some older material with Sun of Nothing and Ants of the Sky from Colors. During the jam session that was Swim to the Moon my attention started to wandered elsewhere…specifically back to the bar to get another unnecessary drink.

The drum solo sounded great, but I do get bored with solos even when I’m sober, so I went over to the merch booth to grab a t-shirt. And this was the one part of the night that actually irritated me. I picked out the shirt I wanted to purchase and then stood there for a few minutes before I noticed the sign that read ‘go watch the band dummy, don’t bother the merch staff’ or some shit like that. Really? Dude was sitting there on his Macbook ignoring the fact that he had a paying customer standing there. What about the kids who might have a curfew or someone not feeling well that needed to leave early? They can’t buy a shirt? Does BTBAM really have that much money that they will walk away from the pure profit that is merch sales? Anyway, I thought that was pretty ridiculous. But I got over it…

The last song of the first set was Fossil Genera from The Great Misdirect and even though the clean vocals sounded off, it was a great way to end the set. The band had barely existed the stage when they came back on to perform Selkies, the only song from the Alaska album. It ended around 11:30pm and even though I was shocked at how early it was, I was beat. 4 ½ hours of metal was enough for a Wednesday night. I sat in the back of the cab with a smile on my face while the headache slowing creped in…a headache that would grow throughout the night and wake me in the early morning only to remind me that my bar tab had been a bit excessive.

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BTBAM Setlist:
Specular Reflection
Augment of Rebirth
Lunar Wilderness
Sun of Nothing
Ants of the Sky
Swim to the Moon
Drum Solo
Fossil Genera – A Feed From Cloud Mountain

Selkies: The Endless Obsession

also, check out the new EP

Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
(Metal Blade, 2011)

Another frantic sci-fi mindfuck from the progressive North Carolina metallers.  This stopgap concept-EP tells the story of two beings in parallel universes, but it’s the music that will keep you coming back.

Between the Buried and MeSpecular Reflection

Full Reviews:
Metal Underground