Forty years ago, an admirable ethos of limitless creative courage was not just welcomed by the music-consuming public, but celebrated, revered and propelled to the world’s arenas. Bands such as Genesis, Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer bestrode the Earth, eschewing a philosophy of bombast, extravagance, wild experimentation and wilful self- indulgence.
Say what you like about grown men wearing capes and wizard hats while performing 20-minute songs about robot armadillos, but prog rock was both artistically and commercially vital in the 70s, and, somewhat against the grain, Between The Buried And Me are keeping its spirit alive. In fact, one listen to their latest album, Coma Ecliptic, with its dizzying changes of pace and mood, its sumptuous web of interwoven melodies and its startling moments of untamed brutality, may be enough to convince you that this band were born into the wrong era.
“Well, I agree with that idea for financial reasons, because you could make money playing crazy music back then!” laughs frontman Tommy Rogers. “I think what’s fun about us is that we definitely tap into that spirit of the 70s, but we also have moments that are very modern and very intense. If people had heard our records, as they are, in the 70s, they would be like, ‘What the hell is this?’ Ha ha! So I wouldn’t say we were born in the wrong decade, but I like the spirit of that time. You can see those old TV shows with bands playing these crazy long songs. That’s awesome, man. And I think it’s coming back. People are bored of listening to the same old shit. A lot of records you can guess exactly what’s going to happen next, and I don’t think you can with ours, and people appreciate that.”
Formed in Raleigh, North Carolina, nearly 15 years ago, Between The Buried And Me have made a habit of espousing the principles of prog while retaining strong roots in the humble hardcore and metal scene that spawned them. Their trajectory to this point has been steady but insistently upward. Initially regarded as peers of The Dillinger Escape Plan and their tooth-rattling ilk, Tommy and his comrades’ musical efforts over the years have remained firmly in tune with that scattershot, jazz-meets-hardcore mindset, while seemingly evolving in tandem with the ongoing resurgence of progressive rock and metal. The consequence of all of this is that the opulent, multidimensional, conceptual splurge of Coma Ecliptic is as likely to appeal to fans of Dream Theater and Opeth as it is to fans of Dillinger or Converge. Even the concept itself – the fantastic journeys of a man who puts himself in a state of unconsciousness and then revisits a variety of previous lives – avoids both the fairytale twaddle that prog can often be guilty of propagating and the vague philosophising beloved in certain corners of the tech-metal scene. Pleasingly, as Tommy explains, Coma Ecliptic is as much a paean to the small screen as it is an attempt to emulate Pink Floyd.
“The big inspiration for me was television, actually,” he admits. “I kind of approached it as if I wrote a miniseries… how would I want to do it? I’ve always been really inspired by the old Twilight Zone series. I went through a phase when I was watching episodes every day, and I love the creepy, eerie vibe it always had. I felt that worked well with our record, so I created a story that was in that vein. This guy is in a self-induced coma and he’s travelling to these past lives and every song is like a different scenario, so I don’t have any boundaries. If a song is really crazy, I can create this insane scenario and it’ll work well. That’s allowed me the freedom to really get wild and we really had fun with it. It’s all there to be discovered on the record.”
Despite the undeniable truth that playing music this adventurous doesn’t tend to pay the bills in 2015, Between The Buried And Me find themselves in the odd position of having an album that is crying out to be turned into a film or, at the very least, an outrageous stage show. But the reality is that, despite their growing popularity, they remain an underground band with all the budgetary limitations that entails. But what if we could transport them back to the 70s? What would a BTBAM gig look like then?
“Oh man, our shows would be out of control!” Tommy laughs, clearly having thought about this extensively before. “I want to fly around and shit, that’s one thing! Ha ha ha! Those prog bands had those wild ideas and were no-holds-barred with their live shows, but they had the budget to do it. So that’d be us, 100%. Kids always ask, ‘Why don’t you do all this crazy video stuff onstage?’ and the answer is, ‘We don’t have the money!’”
There’s something refreshing about Tommy’s view of music; his wide-eyed wonder at the possibilities, and his band’s joy at the chance to create something that aims high and cheerfully disregards all current trends. After all those years of touring, it’s hard not to feel for them, sharing stages with an endless succession of generic American metal bands and watching some of them go on to huge success, while their own, laudably brave efforts take the much slower, scenic route to recognition.
“Oh, I hate to judge, man. People do what they do,” Tommy shrugs. “I guess I just hope that bands are doing it for the right reasons, which unfortunately, a lot of the time, they’re not. We came from the hardcore scene and you played because you loved playing. It was never, ‘I want to make a living!’, because that was not a possibility. Once that became a possibility, bands were like, ‘I want to make money, I want to be famous, I want sex, drugs and rock’n’roll… ’ I can‘t say that that’s bad. If that’s what you want, go for it. But it’s not something I want to be associated with.”
The next year will be crucial for Between The Buried And Me. With plans to tour the world – including a possible jaunt in 2016 where they’ll play Coma Ecliptic in its bewildering entirety – and their reputation growing by the day, they may not be destined for the arena circuit, but there’s an infectious intensity to their desire to focus on the magic of music itself, rather than any other more superficial concerns, that could yet propel this band towards much bigger and better things. If nothing else, they deserve our applause for being ambitious enough – crazy enough, even – to be modern metal’s most fearless sonic wizards. Hats off.
“We just feel that the music we make is gonna be around a lot longer than us, so it’s important that we leave behind something that we’re 100% proud of,” Tommy concludes. “We want to look back at our legacy and say, ‘We did a great fuckin’ job!’”
COMA ECLIPTIC IS OUT NOW VIA METAL BLADE. BTBAM WILL TOUR THE UK IN SEPTEMBER