Between the Buried and Me – The Great Misdirect
Since their inception, it has always been clearly evident that – regardless of lineup – Between the Buried and Me has never been a group infatuated with minimalism. From the exuberant emotional passages on their 2002 self-titled debut through to the hoedowns, polka breaks, and Elmo voices that ventured onto 2007’s critically acclaimed Colors, they have never shied away from pushing the envelope, whether it involves surpassing limits within their genre, or traveling far beyond it. For some, the chances taken on Colors were ballsy and enjoyable at first, but eventually became an annoyance and hurt the record in the end. For others, they proved the band’s genre-defying dominance and new “progressive” approach to writing.
However, for the vast majority of the band’s fans, both of the ‘classics’ and the newer records, the question remained: how was this band supposed to top a record that even they consider their best? What was Between the Buried and Me’s approach to topping an album that chronicled nearly every style of music imaginable in a rather tightly-knit hour-long package? Their answer is The Great Misdirect, an album that takes a much heavier approach than its predecessor, but has a lot of the same little ticks that make it another hour-long mixed bag of music.
A few things are very apparent after one listen through the album’s six tracks; First, this is most definitely the same group of musicians who pieced Colors together. Second, they didn’t get all of the crazy and wacky ideas out of their system (something most thought would not have been an issue two albums in a row). Third, they seemed to have forgotten the idea of cohesiveness and songwriting entirely – while an issue on Colors, it was less of a problem because of the continuous track approach.
The album’s opener is “Mirrors”, an almost ambient track that serves as a strong introduction to the record; lyrical themes are introduced, and once the full band kicks in (Blake Richardson‘s jazzy rhythms and Dan Briggs‘s fretless bass soloing are the highlights), it quickly becomes one of the most impressive ‘quiet’ songs the band has done.
“Obfuscation” is the real introduction to the writing style the band took to the album; it breezes through an evocative opening melody, heavy riffing and an impressive off-time breakdown at a rapid pace. Classic BTBAM. However, once the band introduces the main chorus, a Megadeth (or Doom 2, depending on your preference) influenced synth and lead guitar combo, the song starts to feel a little disjointed. There is a jazz break, some Necrophagist-tinged riffing, a shredtacular solo by Paul Waggoner that will remind many of John Petrucci, and an Egyptian-themed melody by Dustie Waring. It is after the last repetition of the main theme that the song takes a turn; an unnecessary mood swing takes the song from a rather dark and heavy place to a new positive light all-too-quickly. It features another solo by Paul that feels like an attempted successor to “Selkies”, but is not remotely as memorable or well-phrased.
The album’s heaviest and best put together track is the eleven-minute “Disease, Injury, Madness”, an epic that – like its title suggests – is divided into three main acts. Death metal blasts and heavy self-titled influenced beatdowns are on full display for the first two minutes (“Disease”). Then, the song quiets down and is beautifully taken over by “Injury”, a section which features a conversation between a child and a man, which is part of Tommy Rogers‘s most impressive lyrical output since The Silent Circus. “Madness” is where the song battles between brilliance and banality; the strength of the first two acts carry on until the southern rock section, the sequel the hoedown on “Ants of the Sky” – something that wouldn’t be so terrible if there wasn’t a horse neighing in the background. Yes, they took the time to get a horse patch for Tommy’s keyboard. Yes, this would have been a very easy thing to avoid that would have made the song that much better. Minimalism, my friends. Minimalism. Luckily, the song makes up for it with an ambient section reminiscent of The Mars Volta, a conquering climax, black metal hijinx, and a recollection of “Disease”.
As “Madness” concludes abruptly, the circusy keyboards that dominate the first few minutes of “Fossil Genera – A Feed from Cloud Mountain” kick in. At first childish, they actually start to become haunting once the full band joins in. Tommy toys with a Mike Pattonish voice, until the song picks up and delivers some devastating breakdown rhythms topped off with playful leads. The track also features one of the band’s most brutal moments; a chugging rhythm that ties the rest of the track into a primarily acoustic chord progression that ends up leading into the campfireish “Desert of Song”, a track that has Paul’s first vocal performance since The Silent Circus. Despite a rocky start, the track actually ends up being the most structurally and cohesively sound number on the disc – a good idea, since the album closes out with the eighteen-minute “Swim to the Moon”.
In those closing eighteen minutes, the band explore fewer genres than you would expect – only a brief King Crimson moment, and celtic riffing (the reprise of which is one of the best moments in the band’s history) are touched upon, in addition to an array of proggy metal riffs. And while almost every riff in the song is an instant BTBAM classic, the track feels a lot more like a showcase of “hey, look what we can do!”, rather than an actual cohesive closer. Actually, there are two distinct ideas within the eighteen minutes; the first lasting the introductory ten minutes, the second spreading over the final eight. The band manages to connect them with certain ideas, but it is hard to feel like you’ve listened to an actual song by the end. An attempted epic closer that doesn’t fit the bill as well as “White Walls” did for Colors. Still, it feels like the band ditched the ideas of songwriting and transitions throughout most of the song.
A good portion of The Great Misdirect feels like Colors done right; on top of it being a lot heavier, the genre experimentation is implemented in a broader way, touching on entire ideas rather than being used as specific sections. Still, there are some obvious things (horse neigh, etc.) that make you wonder if anyone in the band questions any of the other members’ decisions (an especial pet peeve of this reviewer as they are the little things that hinder some of the band’s best material). Regardless, fans of old BTBAM and the progheads that liked Colors will both find plenty to enjoy on The Great Misdirect, despite its faults.