Between The Buried and Me shows AGAIN that they’re the real deal in a new LIVE release
If you didn’t already know that Between the Buried and Me was a force of music that is unparalleled in the industry, NEIGH…the WORLD, then just sit back, pop in their new live CD/DVD release, Coma Ecliptic LIVE and take in the awesomeness.
This is BTBaM’s third LIVE release and in each one they’ve played a full album from cover to cover, and I have to say that this band gets better with each one, which is saying something when you consider the caliber musicians we’re listening too here. As a group I would hold this band up against any collection of musicians in modern history, and that includes Dream Theater, and Steven Wilson’s band.
Let’s take the music first. Coma Ecliptic was an absolutely brilliant album to begin with, even though BTBaM caught some flak for this release when it first came out because it was said to be a departure from their prior albums. I actually thought the same thing when I first got the album. Upon further review, the more I listen to the studio version and now the LIVE version, the more I hear that this IS THE SOUND of BTBaM, and this is not some new direction.
Look, I understand that the album starts slow, very slow, but so did every album since Alaska. Now the fact that the slow beginning of Coma was roughly 5 minutes as opposed to the 90 or so seconds of atmosphere on all the other releases might have set a worrisome tone for you “hardcore” peeps out there that freak out at the thought of one of your “heavy” staples going soft, but if you’re an ACTUAL fan of BTBaM, you know that this is who they are. I had the opportunity to discuss this very topic with Mr. Rogers, and he said it simply. “This is who we are. I don’t think Coma is very different from anything else we’ve done, because every album is different, but we always sound like Between the Buried and Me.”
Ok, so now let’s address Tommy Rogers’ vocals on this album which was also a worry of those who think that maybe BTBaM is going the way of Opeth, which is more Prog Rock than metal (“not that there’s anything wrong with that” —-Seinfeld). The vocals on Coma are slightly less aggressive than in past BTBaM albums, BUT Tommy says it’s not a choice in style, it’s what the songs called for. “Sometimes a part in a song calls for screaming, so I scream…sometimes it doesn’t.”
So now that ALL OF THAT is addressed, let’s get to the LIVE stuff. The performances on this release are extraordinary. Coma Ecliptic as a piece of music in its complete form is very dynamic and nuanced and so much more than “just a metal album.” Now you can argue that anybody can sound good in the studio, and this might be doubly true when it comes to dynamics and nuance. You can manipulate anything in a studio to sound just about any way you want. Hell, we’ve seen what Milli Vanilli, Ashley Simpson and a host of other “studio juggernauts” can do in a studio…but LIVE, that’s a whole different story.
I’ve personally seen a lot of bands play perfectly LIVE, in all genres, and it’s always impressive, but when it comes to bands in the Prog genre like Dream Theater, Opeth, and Steven Wilson there’s so much more to a great LIVE performance. BTBaM certainly have earned their place among these bands, with the ability to be heavier than all of them, and pull off the dynamics and nuance of any of them, which is a distinction all their own.
Visually, BTBaM is a very odd band to watch. When I first saw them live back in 2011 when they were touring with Devin Townsend, Cynic, and Scale the Summit on “The Great Misdirect” tour, I noticed this weird quirk that I’ve never seen in a band before; they barely ever interact with each other. Some bands engage in each other more than others when it comes to on stage performance, but they at the very least look at each other. BTBaM barely ever does, or so that’s how it looks from the floor.
I discounted this as an oddity of the moment. Slim’s has a small stage, they were all crammed up there, and maybe there was no room for interaction. Then there was the next time I saw them on the Coheed and Cambria tour in 2013 and it was a much bigger stage at The Warfield in San Francisco, but the same result, except this time I got to really see their performance style.
Not only do they not interact with each other, each member of the band has a very distinct “thing” they do. Paul Waggoner, guitarist, is the only guy besides Tommy Rogers who interacts with the audience, and he does it sporadically at best. I mean, I get it…he’s busy, playing ungodly technical passages with exact precision, it takes a lot of a guy’s focus, but when you take into consideration what everyone else is doing…what he does is a lot comparatively.
Dustie Waring, Paul Waggoner’s counterpart on guitar, stands there and bobs his head, and looks borderline bored, which is hilarious to watch because he too is playing some of the most on point, technical rhythms you’ve ever heard while looking…bored.
Bassist Dan Briggs looks like he’s in another universe. The dude puts his head down, assumes a wide-ish stance and just trips out. I swear he looks like he has a glass bubble around him, and he doesn’t see anyone around him. Even when he breaks to play the keys, he really doesn’t make eye contact with anyone.
I’ve recently started calling Drummer, Blake Richardson, THOR, for a few reasons. One, he plays like a God. Two, he’s like 6’7”. And Three, not saying I have a man crush, or that I swing that way, but he’s “Hemsworth-esque” in the looks department. With a chin that can crack bricks, a mane that would make Samson jealous and perfectly groomed facial hair…let’s just say MY EGGS drop when he hits the stage.
So, with all that said, he doesn’t have to “perform” and he doesn’t. He plays, and plays some of the most technical and insane drum parts this side of Bozzio, perfectly.
Then there’s Tommy. Tommy Rogers is hands down the most unassuming front man in the history of Rock/Metal. Besides the fact that until recently he looked like a regular guy (he has long hair in the new DVD, and the new Ayreon vid “The Day that the World Breaks Down”) he plays a lot of keyboard and even with the long hair, you’re still shocked that THOSE screams come from THAT guy. So if you listen to BTBaM before you see them live, you may think that they don’t have much of a front man. You’d be wrong, by a long shot.
Tommy Rogers goes from calm keyboard player/singer, to a fierce ringleader in the matter of a few chords at times. I have never seen a front man rile his audience up the way I saw Tommy do it the first time I saw BTBaM on “The Great Misdirect” tour. During the song “Swim to the Moon” (which is a near 20-minute piece of ‘HOLY SHIT’ epic-ness from the album The Great Misdirect) they come out of this instrumental section with Tommy screaming the line “LOOK INTO THE PICTURE!!!” with his body half off of the stage, and clutching this pole that was on the stage at Slim’s in San Francisco like a metal King Kong hanging off of the Empire State Building. All while the expression on in his face went from the calm of a musician playing highly technical passages to the intensity of a man ready to fight for his life…it certainly stirs something in you, and so does this music.
Now I will say, there isn’t nearly as much of that on the Coma Ecliptic LIVE set, but there are moments like in “Famine Wolf,” and in the opening piece “The Coma Machine” that show a similar level of intensity.
Between the Buried and Me always has an interestingly minimal approach to a stage/light production, and this set no different. They are creative with their light show, but it’s not a focal point it seems. It almost seems like they begrudgingly have lights, because it’s what’s expected of them, but if they had their choice, there would be just basic lights. I totally get the reluctance to invest in a full on light show, because it’s expensive, and being a working musician these days is not what it used to be. With that being said, I always find BTBaM’s light production to be interesting and better than most despite its small scale.
All in all, I would put the Coma Ecliptic LIVE release right up there with some of my favorite all time LIVE albums, and that includes BTBaM’s first LIVE release, Colors LIVE which is one of my all-time fave live albums/videos period. I think it’s better than the Parallax II LIVE release, which was also brilliant, but I feel this one is just a touch better from an overall performance standpoint, but that’s comparing a perfect diamond to a slightly lesser diamond.
Any questions or comments? Please send me an email at TheProgtologist@gmail.com.