Between the Buried and Me are a metal band who speak a musical language all their own, but it’s one they have cobbled together with bits and pieces of the great work of others. With each successive album, they have added to their vocabulary—songs that were once composed mostly out of chunks of grindcore and death-metal now include influences as wide as Frank Zappa, Queen, Danny Elfman, Brian Eno and Dick Dale. And the band aren’t afraid to return to past musical themes—a Between the Buried and Me fan is just as likely to listen to The Parallax II:Future Sequence and hear a reference to a lick or emotional cue from their previous work, but this time presented with an alternate intention and wrapped up in another style. It’s as if their songs are made up of bits of their own musical slang, compositions that are nods and winks to a video game soundtrack, an obscure piece of jazz music or a shout-out to their heroes.
The Parallax II: Future Sequence is not the band’s most impressive album—that was Colors—and it isn’t the band’s most accessible—that was Alaska. But it may be their most ambitious; that does not mean they succeed. The concept album tells a convoluted story of two lovers who somehow end up involved in astral projection, space travel and suicide—it feels like they may have picked up a rejected theme from Mastodon but the blueprint allows vocalist Tommy Rogers to show off in ways he hasn’t before. “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest” begins with the churning grind typical of the band’s earlier work but gives way to something that sounds like Queen’s A Night at the Opera before exploding into a progressive metal anthem. “Bloom” feels like it could have been a collaboration between Frank Zappa and Freddy Mercury. The Pink Floyd-influenced track, “The Black Box,” simmers and builds to the classic death-jazz-grind of “Telos”—a song that represents the best of what BTBAM deliver.
A story is told here through the band’s refined musical language. While the form is there, the aesthetics are somewhat lacking. The album is touted as a space-rock opera but, besides a few shoe-gazing solos, the aesthetic of space is missing. Roger’s keyboard work sounds like the ’80s, not the ’70s sci-fi soundtracks you find yourself wanting them to be. Bassist Dan Briggs holds everything together with jaw-dropping ability, but his tones are unrelentingly warm and inviting; you aren’t left feeling hollow, floating alone in space, and the band’s guitar tone is the same as it ever was—like they just plugged in a Peavy 5150, turned up the distortion and started to shred. To make a lasting musical statement like Colors, the band will have to refine their aesthetics along with their chops. For now The Parallax II stands as a challenging and intriguing listen for metal fans. The band’s reach—judging by their recent placement on the Billboard charts—could be much greater. They could make a genre-crossing classic.