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Between the Buried and Me: The Parallax II: Future Sequence
I've often classified the music of progressive metal kings Between the Buried and Me as "unlistenable genius." On the one hand, the average spectator may interpret the group's vicious growls, fiery guitar work, and intense percussion as nothing more than noise. After all, the band ventures into relentless aural assaults a lot, and it's quite understandable for some people to be turned off by it. However, every guttural utterance and double bass drum spasm is usually met with the opposite: wonderfully tranquil melodies sung with smooth harmonies and complemented by equally complex arrangements. Rather than simply feature, say, a devilish verse and angelic chorus, their music constantly shifts between movements, and each of these sections is introduced and replaced seamlessly thanks to excellent segues and transitions. While many metal bands juxtapose heaviness and heavenliness, few, if any, do it as expertly and uniquely as BTBAM.
Over the past few several years, BTBAM has evolved its sound exponentially, and they've quickly become one of the genre's most revered acts. Their fourth album, 2007's Colors (a 60 minute song divided into several tracks), was a major stepping stone in both their artistic evolution and commercial popularity. Although its follow-up, The Great Misdirect, was another phenomenal release (I often prefer it over Colors, actually), many fans felt that it didn't live up to expectations. Naturally, the next step for the group was to record one of the most beloved trademarks of progressive music: the concept album. Or, in this case, a two-part concept spread across an initial EP and a concluding full-length.
The first part, last year's The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, was a three song, thirty minute primer that contained more fantastic material (its opening track, "Specular Reflection," is arguably still the band's greatest track). Even more, the EP successfully sparked massive anticipation for the rest of the project. After a year and a half of waiting, it's finally here, and it's incredible.
Entitled The Parallax II: Future Sequence, the record is a seventy-two minute trip into brutality, beauty, and absolute brilliance. Like Colors, the album is a singular work broken into easily digestible portions, and every moment is a gem. Rather than reinvent their sound or try radically new things, the quintet simply improves upon everything that makes them special. Every timbre, melody, technique, and layer is perfectly chosen, making it the group's most cohesive, consistent, and fully realized output yet. If you ever doubted that BTBAM would be able to top itself, prepare to feel like a fool. The Parallax II is a nearly flawless masterpiece.
As for the story, vocalist Tommy Rogers told Yell! Magazine that the tale revolves around two characters, Prospect I and Prospect II, who "…exist in isolation…As the story progresses you realize they are actually the same person, and at the end of the journey they're responsible for destroying all life as they know it, reinforcing the idea that humanity is a destructive species, and that there's some kind of innate flaw about us that causes us to destroy everything we touch." Whether you follow the concept or not, the music, vocals, and words used to express it are spectacular.
Considering that The Parallax II is essentially one piece with dozens of sections, breaking down the album track by track would sort of go against its nature. Still, there are several highlights that should be discussed. Opener "Goodbye to Everything" (which is actually the end of the story—Memento, anyone?) is a standard BTBAM album introduction: Rogers sings a soft melody over acoustic guitar, strings, delicate percussion, and starry harmonies. Of special note is the way he uses countermelodies to add complexity, and the way he utters the prophetic, ominous lyrics is masterful. With this song, the group effective prepares the listener to backtrack over the characters' doomed journey, and as usual, it provides a great contrast to the subsequent onslaughts "Astral Body" and "Lay Your Ghosts to Rest."
"Autumn" is an electric soundscape interlude that flows into "Extremophile Elite," which will blow you away. The track features some of the albums most intricate time signatures, and the way the music subtly builds up to the album's sole (as far as I can tell) reference to its predecessor is amazing. You'll likely smile when you hear the familiar odd rhythm, melody, and lyrics ("Walking into a certain state of…"). It's quite stunning, as is the classically arranged half minute (or so) break that comes before it. Afterward, "Parallax" provides a spoken-word preface to the bittersweet, intense fragility of "The Black Box." Centered on a sorrowful piano chord progression and more wonderful interlocking vocals, it's undoubtedly the album's most beautiful moment.
The middle portion of "Telos" is a highlight, too, as it evokes Floydian mellowness in the midst of crushing madness. The eccentric syncopation melts into a thick guitar riff that declares impending devastation, and Rogers' contribution fits perfectly. As for "Bloom," its initial battle between a lone piano note and the full band for counterpoint dominance is a slice of genius unto itself. A bit later, the central section of "Melting City," besides offering a fantastic flute solo, contains not only the best melody on The Parallax II, but probably the best bit Rogers has ever sung. It's breathtaking.
The album concludes with a fifteen minute behemoth, "Silent Flight Parliament," which is obviously the most epic offering. Its opening words ("I know what I must do. I'm coming home") perfectly set up the definiteness of the situation. Like the rest of the album, this part features mind-blowing variations and changes, as well as a few atypical genre shifts (which fans of Colors will definitely appreciate). Specifically, the brief string break near the end is a lovely inclusion, and the final remarks about the failed voyage are simple but profound. The track is exactly what it should be: a momentous finale in which the fates of the characters are sealed and the story spirals to a close. "Silent Flight Parliament" explodes into "Goodbye to Everything (Reprise)," which presents a slightly altered take on the way the album started. Although it arguably doesn't feature enough vocals (Rogers only says one line), it's still an effective calm after a seventy minute storm.
Even with all the praise and attention I've given to the aforementioned moments, I've only scratched the surface of what makes The Parallax II: Future Sequence so amazing. From beginning to end, it bursts with invigorating experimentation, exceptional dynamics, overwhelming heaviness, awe-inspiring softness, and countless remarkable transitions that tie it all together. As clichéd as it sounds, this is an album that truly requires several listens to appreciate fully. Each track strikes a perfect balance between power and restraint. The record features some of the fiercest, most multifarious, complex, and beautiful music I've ever heard, and there isn't a wasted second in the process. Again, it's not for everyone, but those who can handle and appreciate the duality of BTBAM will find that this album exceeds expectations by a mile. The Parallax II: Future Sequence is not just the best album of the group's career and one of the best albums of 2012—it's one of the best albums I've ever heard.
1. Goodbye to Everything
2. Astral Body
3. Lay Your Ghosts to Rest
5. Extremophile Elite
7. The Black Box
10. Melting City
11. Silent Flight Parliament
12. Goodbye to Everything (Reprise)
Added: October 24th 2012
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Band Website
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|Between the Buried and Me: The Parallax II: Future Sequence
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-10-24 14:10:23
Man, does this band know how to hit a home run every time at bat or what? Mr. Blum has done a remarkable job of descibing just how great this album is, so I'm not going to go into much detail here, but I wanted to make sure I gave my two cents as well and give this album and this band full credit for a remarkable achievement.
Between the Buried and Me are on quite a roll, with Alaska, Colors, The Great Misdirect, now the duo of The Parallax basically re-writing the book on extreme progressive metal. No other band out there is combining intelligently written lyrical concepts with jaw dropping musical complexity and a mix of ferocious vocal bludgeoning and catchy, clean melodic singing. Sure, many bands attempt it, but they pale in comparison to BTBAM. Some of the passages here on The Parallax II: Future Sequence are just mind boggling, and there are some haunting melodies that will just stick in your head for days. For those who appreciate furious death metal & hardcore, and well as complex progressive metal, you just simply can't go wrong with this album. The band has their finger on pop and prog to go along with their extreme roots, for a sound that has been attempted by many but none come close.
So, yes, this is a concept album that succeeds on all fronts. Want all the skinny? Then read Jordan's review above. Otherwise, just take my word for it-this is a great CD and a must have for anyone into progressive metal. Contender for album of the year, without a doubt!
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