Between the Buried and Me never fail to deliver an absurdly tight set of progressive metal, with an emphasis on “progressive.” Their playing is flawless, lead singer Tommy Rogers delivers a sense of drama and urgency that most bands in their genre flail at with clichés and stereotypes, and they flit between styles: jazz, Southern rock, blues, techno and hardcore in songs that last as long as half of most bands’ full-length albums.
It is always a thrilling experience to hear their spastic compositions live, to see how tightly orchestrated their chaos really is. This was no different on Friday night at Nothern Lights. In fact, the sound quality in the room was so good that the performance almost outshone most of their recordings. But as the band have grown more technically proficient and confident in their chops, they have lost something—it feels sometimes like they’ve lost a part of their soul.
Their last two albums have felt alien, sterile and disconnected. Their recordings have always focused on alienation and disconnection as themes, but older albums, like The Silent Circus, Alaska and Color, always eventually gave way to an explosion of human emotion, whether it was loss, regret, anger, joy or love. The band managed to tug at your emotions while delivering blistering technicality. They were songs that you remembered not just because of the technicality but because they had something to say.
Yet, the start of Friday’s set felt just as sterile and cold as their last two albums, probably because it relied on songs from those discs, The Great Misdirect and The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. The mid-set medley of songs from their first two albums seemed to be an attempt to rile up the crowd with some emotion and nostalgia. The band deftly delivered the breakdowns of a number of songs off their self-titled album: From unexpected acoustic ballads to chugga-chugga riffs and screamed threats, the medley was full of the grit and soul the band used to deliver so well but, without the full songs, it sort of felt like cheating. A drum solo did nothing but add to the sense that the band has in some way forgotten where it came from.
It wasn’t until BTBAM kicked into their 12-minute opus “White Walls,” off of Colors, that their spirit came alive. A swirling storm of time changes and jazz-influenced riffs roiled into an ocean of a climax that saw Rogers truly come alive. The audience’s hands shot in their air and their bodies contorted towards the stage like Rogers was a magnet. It felt like a bomb had gone off—all shrapnel and flames—just like the entirety of old BTBAM shows used to. The band left the stage one-by-one, but the crowd wasn’t having it. They started the chant before the band had departed—“One more song! One more song!”—but weren’t asking for enough.
Openers Tesseract proved that they are more studio project than live band. Vocalist Elliot Coleman missed a majority of his high notes and the band’s ethereal but Meshuggah-aping style fell flat until they delivered their Internet hit “Concealing Fate Part1.” Washington’s Animals as Leaders surprisingly dazzled the crowd with their strictly instrumental set that was both experimental and captivating. Their tunes would have equally pleased jam-band heads and metal diehards.