Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
If Between the Buried and Me‘s Alaska (2005) was a great example of “great art through adversity”, then Hypersleep Dialogues achieves the same ends with vastly opposite means. Hypersleep enjoys a more flexible length in the EP (relative to the hour-plus BTBAM LP phenomenon) format, extensive production palette, and a presumably supportive new-label (Metal Blade) environment. In a sense, the EP is a glimpse at total control, timing, and the band’s resourcing of a world class producer – Which is not to say that the album’s production is one of the more successful sound-jobs in the tech-death turned “progressive” band’s career. By all accounts, Alaska saw a personnel change immediately before studio time as well as overzealous production outsourcing via the habitually unscrupulous Victory – Fuck, even the band seemed down in the dumps throughout that disc’s touring cycle; regardless, Alaska remains BTBAM’s most qualitative, tasteful, and interesting work to date. Enter Hypersleep, a project formed in BTBAM’s halcyon days that manages to frequently be great art without needing the band to be all frowns in the process.
I’m of the camp that considers Colors (2007) to be a fundamental wrong turn. And while The Great Misdirect (2009) acted as a course correction, it was still misguided. The major issue, which finally is not case in Hypersleep, was the band’s reliance on hybridization; the torrent of musical flavours had their prog get out of jail card but were jarringly unmotivated. Insufferably kitschy at times and emotionally devoid at others, there did not seem to be a pretense of meaning to their bluegrass asides and whatever the majority of “Sun of Nothing” was (still a cool title, though). The band’s death metal backbone remained more or less intact but sat uncomfortably parallel to their goofier “I wonder if we could get away with this” songwriting decisions. Still, half the fun of listening to a BTBAM album involves top-of-their-game musicians excessively exploiting their ability- There is, honestly, a lot of enjoyment in that, and in BTBAM’s defense I think it could be far more tasteless than their more disdainful choices let on.
Hypersleep preaches homogenization; the band’s leaning to prog music and structures is, for the first time, realized. Prog sensibility is infused with their conventional tech death canvas, forming one consistent colour throughout. “Specular Reflection” slyly layers an organ presence on its smooth transition to singalong chorus – Past uses would have made a novelty of such an inclusion (read: “Ants of the Sky”). The same works for “Lunar Wilderness”, as a memorable and heavy scalar groove is given punch by Tommy Rogers‘s inspired used of keys. These proggy giveaways are more embedded and less directional, which not only unifies BTBAM’s sound again but privileges songwriting over pandering to a genre that seems synonymous with “sophistication via excess”. It helps that these musicians are aiming higher in regards to influence: Holdsworth and Zappa seem the biggest touchstones for this release… Which ultimately manifests as an early fusion break in “Lunar Wilderness” – Paul Waggoner‘s impressive legato usage and Blake Richardson‘s tight jazz discipline (only hinted at in The Great Misdirect) result in being the most technically competent sequence the band has performed to date. Zappa can be felt in the woodblock/xylophone accompaniment for the latter half of “Lunar”, coming off downright Grand Wazoo. Still, BTBAM has not matched these musicians and their bands in terms of chops, but these inclusions thankfully go further than homage or imitation. I wonder where BTBAM will draw from next, as their influences have steadily creeped to higher peaks (from Petrucci to Fripp and Masvidal to now Holdsworth it seems)… Where will they go now? Into themselves, as a band like Converge has done? There is no real greater a master than Allan Holdsworth, permitting me to think that the Parallax Part II followup will regress to a simpler field of performance.
Dusty Waring delivers in a great solo for “Augment of Rebirth”, and before it gets too Thordendal on you, he reigns in his technique and proves why BTBAM is more interesting than complicated. Blake really goes balls out on groove, offering a hyperactive compliment to Ken Schalk‘s work; it ends up (like all his recordings to date) as an intensely detailed, monumentally varied, and intelligent drum performance – A clear touchstone and integral element of this album. The fill-off and culminating bass drum spitfire that dankifies the FUCK out of “Augment”‘s late song slam will likely be the most memorable piece of writing this year. Dan Briggs wisely keeps his bass (and fretless) to a supportive position – Like Tommy’s keys, his instrument’s lines of notation more sinuously breed with the overall shape of the three songs. And Rogers manages to sound mean again, specifically in the blackened death of “Lunar”‘s concluding kvltiness and the somber vitriol of the “perfect smiles” line in “Specular Reflection”.
Transitions seem to be majorly overcompensated for here, a bizarre decision that has grown since Colors‘s grievous lack of them. There are stretches of nary a followable structure but teched out fills that are more aimless than connective… And yet most of the riffage feels fresh and developed; it is appropriate that this is an album about time travel (or relativistic physics, used as a plot point in Ender’s Game and The Forever War), as “Specular” smacks of Alaskan
tech death, “Augment” a layered and over the top brutalizer in line with The Silent Circus (2003) and “Lunar” feeling like a Self Titled (2001) song being written in 2011 (you can almost hear Will Goodyear backing up vocals in the first chorus). In this way I can’t imagine an original lineup BTBAM fan being wholly upset by this release… Have BTBAM returned to form? Fuck, I don’t know… Yeah, sure, they have. The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues is a well executed, intentioned, and intriguing entry into this year’s metal scene, worthy of the praise that BTBAM’s best work has received in times past.