It’s been three years since North Carolina’s most ambitious prog troupe polished off their Parallax album duo, which means fans will have had time to listen through the past two LPs about twice in total. In the proud tradition of sensu stricto prog rock and metal, Between the Buried and Me have churned out predictably wacky and bombastic rock operas for the past decade and a half and show no sign of slowing down, grounding themselves, or learning how to write songs. If you already love the band, Coma Ecliptic isn’t going to disappoint you, and if you don’t really care for them, prepare for more of the same.
“Node” ushers in the next hour and some change with Thomas Giles’ spooky keys and smooth, if somewhat irksome singing voice. A final burst of loud orchestration and a wide open major scale guitar solo chop it off at three and a half minutes, because of course the band couldn’t possibly put an understated track to disc at this point in their careers. “The Coma Machine” follows with staccato a capella vocals a la Haken, though not nearly as well executed. The album’s concept (which, for those of you who don’t know, can be summed up as ‘a series of helpful fever dreams’) is quite well-executed though; each song certainly has its own personality and even though you can find something to complain about in all of them, there’s also something to enjoy.
BTBAM‘s writing process is woefully intact, still reliant on the spaghetti test of riffage – if it sticks, it’s done. Unlike The Mars Volta, Leprous, or even Haken, the band still has no concept of song structure. The Mars Volta, after penning the intensely aggravating Frances The Mute, eventually went on to release fantastically written songs on Octahedron and Noctourniquet; Haken started out with the somewhat messy and very silly Aquarius and has since cleaned up their act to deliver fantastic songs like “The Cockroach King,” but this band still refuses to entertain the idea of self-editing, and their music still suffers for it. It’s not that there aren’t any good moments on display here; “Turn on the Darkness” has a very fun, noodly chorus that’s stuck on to otherwise boring and self-indulgent sections, and late in the album things become pretty listenable once again.
As always, instrumental performances are excellent, although somewhat lacking in personality. Giles’ growls are still painfully boring, but don’t show up as much as they did in the band’s early career, and the guitarists do a whole lot of major-scale shredding that’s sadly blunted by the album’s squeaky-clean production. Coma Ecliptic meets expectations at every level.
My continuously mixed feelings about the band haven’t become any clearer with the release of Coma Ecliptic. On one hand, the consistently creative and technically adept group always puts out good albums – that is to say, albums that feel like a unit and have a distinct personality when compared to each other. On the other hand, as the champions of prog in the ’80s sense, most of their songs are terrible. The bulk of the songs on Coma Ecliptic are pretty bad as well, unfocused meanderings filled with pedantic interludes. The album’s few well-executed songs, like “Dim Ignition” and the ending duo of “Option Oblivion” and “Life in Velvet,” which tie in leitmotifs from each other and the rest of the album, are few, short, and far between. Yet the band’s adroit instrumental work and occasional flashes of brilliance keep the LP afloat, and honestly, what more can we expect from the bearers of the Dream Theater torch? Deriding the band for self-indulgence and theater misses the point of their genre, in which these are key elements. Between the Buried and Me have not produced a great album, but I can’t help but grudgingly enjoy it at times. Coma Ecliptic does exactly what’s expected of it and nothing more.