Over the course of 15 years and six full-length albums, Between the Buried and Me have established themselves as one of the leading acts in tech-metal.
But the Raleigh, North Carolina–based five-piece perhaps finally realized their proggy destiny to the full extent with their last two releases, the dual conceptual suite of the 2011 EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues and the 2012 full-length follow-up, The Parallax II: Future Sequence.
Now, the band—singer and keyboardist Tommy Giles Rogers, guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson—have pushed those progressive tendencies even further, as evidenced on the new Coma Ecliptic, their most expansive and intricate record to date.
“We certainly went into new territory on this one,” Waggoner says.
“When the band started we were all about cramming as many notes as possible into as small a time span as possible. But as we’ve grown and evolved as musicians we’ve focused more on melody and harmony, on orchestration, things like that, as opposed to just technicality.” He laughs. “I guess that’s just part of getting old, really.”
Whether it’s due to age or experience, the fact is that Coma Ecliptic is stunning in its execution. The album’s story, which “is about a man who goes into a self-induced coma and then travels through his past lives in order to find a better one,” says Waring, is pitted against a widescreen and incredibly varied instrumental backdrop that runs the gamut from growly death metal and Seventies-style prog to shimmery electronica and somber piano balladry.
There are also jazzy digressions, atmospheric interludes and skronky, soundtrack-like freakouts. The result is one of the most adventurous, engrossing and technically dazzling metal releases of the year.
“We’re sort of in a zone right now,” Waggoner says of BTBAM’s current musical state of being. “At this point it feels like we can pull off just about anything we set our minds to. And hopefully 10 years from now we’ll still be playing crazy music that pushes the envelope. Who knows? But I like to think that, with this band, anything’s possible.”
After doing the Parallax EP and full length why did you guys decide to record another concept album?
DUSTIE WARING: I think that it just seems to suit us at this point. We tend to enjoy it. It’s become a part of us, in a way, and it’s a really good avenue for our music and our writing style.
One of the things that struck me about Coma Ecliptic is that, while there’s plenty of technical and flashy guitar work, it’s used sparingly and purposefully.
PAUL WAGGONER: Right. And it has more impact that way. It creates more dynamics in the music. There’s still elements of the sound that has always been there, and always will be there. But we’ve introduced other things to our music and that’s made it more dynamic and, I think, better and more meaningful.
A good example of this is the beginning of “Famine Wolf.” It’s a really bizarre and intricate lick, but it also sets the mood of the song. It’s not shred for shred’s sake.
WAGGONER: That part is a tapping thing that’s moving around on the fretboard, and I’m incorporating the major and minor thirds, hammer-ons…if you slowed it all down it would probably sound almost bluesy. But in the context of the sort of dissonant part in the background it just sounds kind of crazy. [laughs] But, yeah, that was the first part I wrote for that song, and a lot of the first half of the song is really built on those notes. So that’s an example of developing and building on an idea as opposed to just injecting it into the song once and then moving on to something else.
On this record you can also hear more pure prog influences than on past albums. “Memory Palace,” for instance, reminds me of bands like Yes and King Crimson.
WAGGONER: Absolutely. I think you nailed it. We’ve actually kind of gone backward, time-wise. I think modern progressive metal has always been an influence, and it still is. But now we’ve gone back and we’re really influenced by classic prog bands. “Memory Palace,” there’s definitely a Yes influence. There’s also things like the Allman Brothers—all sorts of classic prog/jam bands of that era. That has really seeped into our sound. And I love listening to that kind of stuff. So it’s cool now to play music like that and incorporate it into what we do. It’s really rewarding to me personally.
How did the two of you work together as guitarists on this record?
WARING: Well, Paul did more of the lead stuff, even though I do play leads too. But I’d say I do more coloring. I’m a sucker for textures. I did more melodic stuff to complement Tommy’s vocals—to make the parts a bit more atmospheric and fit the mood of what’s going on.
WAGGONER: Dustie is more geared toward feel. He’s also really good with effects. He can tell what’s appropriate for a part, and he’ll add some ethereal type stuff to it, or just a really tasty lead. Whereas if there’s a part that just needs a bunch of sweeping arpeggios, I’ll do that. But we fit together really well because stylistically we’re pretty different. It makes for a good combination.
What gear did you use on the record?
WAGONNER: The main heavy rhythm sound is a Fractal Axe-Fx II through the power section of a Mesa/Boogie Mark V. That went through a Port City [Amplification] 2x12 guitar cabinet loaded with Warehouse Guitar speakers. For some of the clean tones we used a PRS prototype combo amp, and we probably used the Mark V for some clean stuff. Then I used my Ibanez signature guitar [the PWM100], which has a swamp ash body and my Mojotone [PW Hornet] signature pickups.
WARING: I had a few different PRS guitars, including my signature model—it’s a Custom 24 with a Floyd Rose, and it’s loaded with Seymour Duncans. One thing that was interesting though was that, in the studio, I would record my left-side rhythms using Paul’s guitar and then the right side using mine. And then Paul did the same thing.
Because our guitars are so different in terms of wood and pickups, everything ended up sounding a mile wide. Then for effects we used a lot of stuff on the Axe-Fx, but we also had a bunch of different pedals—lots of Maxon stuff, a Strymon TimeLine [delay], a Wampler Tape Echo, an Xotic BB [preamp], a lot of the EarthQuaker Devices stuff, a Keisman Earlybird [overdrive]…we used all kinds of things.
Do you find that when you’re writing music for a concept record you approach things differently than you would normally?
WAGGONER: In a way. I think the biggest difference is you have to write music that has a lot of dynamic shifts in it. Because when you know the lyrical aspect of it is going to follow a storyline, the music has to allow for that to happen. And to do that you can’t just have 10 minutes of pure insane aggression. You have to have peaks and valleys, so to speak. The music has to tell as story too, just like the lyrics.
Is it a challenge to write pieces that are technical and complex, but at the same time still very musical?
WARING: We don’t really go too far into thinking about that kind of stuff when we’re writing. Because it’s just such a natural thing. We may trim some fat on a song before it’s actually recorded, but we don’t ever really sit around and analyze it to that degree, like, “Is this too technical?” I think we’re all just confident in ourselves at this point, and we know that we’re not gonna present a part to the rest of the band that is super over-the-top and noodley that we don’t feel 100 percent on. We all have good filters about that kind of thing.
You guys are heading out on a headlining tour with Animals as Leaders and the Contortionist, two bands that are also extremely technical, as support. Do you feel that in the past few years the audience for this type of music has grown?
WARING: I do. It feels like prog bands aren’t so out on their own anymore. There’s a bigger market for it.
WAGGONER: That audience definitely is growing and I think it has been for a while. People really want to see bands that can play and that are offering something musically that you can’t hear on the radio. And it’s cool to be able to play well again. When I was growing up in the Nineties it wasn’t necessarily cool to be able to play your instrument well. It was almost uncool. But now I feel that there’s a newfound respect for musicianship, and that’s awesome. People are open to that progressive sound.
You guys also introduce that progressive sound in unexpected ways. During your headlining slot at this year’s New England Metal & Hardcore Festival you played a pretty spot-on rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is not the type of thing that is usually heard at that event.
WARING: That fest has been so good to us—we’ve been playing it since 2003. So we thought it would be something really special for the crowd. And we love Queen and we love that song, so we put our spin on it and it came out really cool. And I feel like at this point our fans are up for whatever weird shit we’re gonna do.
WAGGONER: We even did the opera section, and we made it sort of metal and intense. But that stuff is really fun to do. And I think that song is, in a way, sort of a microcosm of what we’re trying to do as a band with the actual music we write. We’re just trying to incorporate all these different influences, and all this different music from over the place. And then we put our own little stamp on it, you know?