Sometimes, the sequel is better than the original. Aliens. Back To The Future Part II. The Dark Knight.
“The Godfather Part II, of course,” adds Between The Buried And Me’s bassist, Dan Briggs. He’s chilling in the North Carolina sun as we talk online. Lucky git.
“That’s actually my favourite Godfather movie,” says Tommy Rogers, BTBAM’s singer and keys player. He’s getting ready for a flight, probably somewhere hot. Lucky git. “That’s what we’re trying to do here, ha!”
Hopefully he means they’ve created a follow-up album that lives up to its source material, rather than shooting someone in the back of the head on a fishing trip. Given the quality of Colors II, BTBAM’s 10th record and thematic follow-up to 2007’s critically acclaimed Colors, we’re guessing so.
Born in something of a pressure bubble, Colors was BTBAM’s fourth full-length and the sound of them spreading their wings to make a statement. That might seem like press release guff, but it’s true – the band were disenfranchised and burnt out.
They’d spent a summer sticking out like a sore bum on the 2006 Ozzfest tour, turning out mid-morning slots across the US to a few rows of kids who were just waiting for Atreyu or something. Frustrated, and probably a bit hangry – the tour didn’t cater to BTBAM’s majority-vegan diet – they set out to make some of the most bizarre, uniquely skewed slices of heaviness committed to tape. Something so weird, so catchy, so packed full of genuine moments, it couldn’t be sidelined.
Colors went down as a classic and firmly established the band as forerunners in modern progressive music, shortly joined by the likes of Periphery and Tesseract. Daddies of the genre such as Dream Theater and Coheed And Cambria were taking them out on tour. BTBAM had scribbled with the perfect shade. So why now for the sequel? Why risk making a Speed 2 or Son Of The Mask?
“Blake [Richardson, drummer] had the idea, more as a cool way to get fans hyped up,” explains Tommy. “We were initially on the fence. Some of us, in the back of our minds, were like, ‘This might not work, we might have to change our plan.’ But the more we thought about it, we thought about why we wrote Colors. We were at a crossroads as a band – we were figuring out our identity.”
“We did a 10-year anniversary tour of Colors in 2017, and I think it was just burning in people’s brains,” says Dan. “When the idea came up, the main thing for me was: I have no interest in writing music that sounds like it came out in 2007.”
Colors II doesn’t sound like that at all. It’s the same band, all grown up, still playing a genreless blend you can’t really label. “Now we’re older, we call it ‘heavy yacht rock’,” quips Tommy, playing off their original description of Colors as ‘new wave polka grunge’.
And with that age comes maturity. Where Colors was conceived in what Dan describes as “shared misery”, its successor came from… well, you know what’s been going on for the past year and a half. Given that BTBAM are famed for concept albums – the Parallax narrative, for example, ran through multiple releases across a decade – it would’ve been easy to frame Colors II as a knackered, clichéd old parable for ‘these strange times’. You could certainly assume so with lead single Fix The Error: a concise, five-minute chronicle where a guy quits his job in a dystopian metropolis, hellbent on taking down the corporation that ruined his life for so long. Fuck the man, man.
“Before we even started talking about this new album, I was burned out on writing concept records,” says Tommy. “I was dreading, like… I gotta figure out another story! It was what was expected of me at that point. Small stories do take place within the album, like Fix The Error. But there’s a lot of personal shit.”
“Like struggling with the idea of constant death on our minds,” he continues. “Last year was the most any of us have ever considered death like that. It’s a huge possibility and can happen just like that. I think about it a lot, just because I’m super-paranoid and freaked out about the idea of death. The lyrics are all over the place at times, but I wanted it to be genuine.”
Lines such as, ‘We didn’t live, we only existed’, from Revolution In Limbo, hit particularly hard. But this is, after all, a BTBAM release. It’s emotional, yes. It’s also completely batty. Prehistory’s Hammond-organish, folk metal intro sounds like it was ripped straight from a mid-90s PlayStation game – and that’s before the actual Crash Bandicoot samples appear over a finger-snapping, ragtime mid-section.
“Things just kept getting added to that part,” says Tommy. “Then the last time I heard it, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a bunch of cartoon shit. That’s cool.’ That happens a lot.”
Little glimmers of Colors rear their heads across the record’s 78-minute duration, but it’s not Bullet For My Valentine doing Tears Don’t Fall (Part 2). It’s all artfully crafted, with tiny leitmotifs and themes trickling down for the keen-eared fan to scoop up, arranged with a Devin Townsendian knack for melody within madness.
“One of the first ideas I had was doing a whole shuffle song based around just one part from Ants Of The Sky [from Colors], which became Bad Habits,” says Dan. “We play the riff from Ants Of The Sky in the middle of that song – the whole song is just variations on a shuffle because of that fuckin’ part!”
“I repeat ‘Sleep on, fly on’ [originally from Ants Of The Sky] there, too,” adds Tommy. “The way the album flows, especially towards the end, where you have the segue [the instrumental Sfumato] right before the last track – it’s a similar vibe from Viridian to White Walls on Colors. Blake even does the same drum rhythm going in. And the way Monochrome goes into The Double Helix Of Extinction is very similar to how the first Colors opens.”
There’s even some sweet I-O-Us from one Colors to another. Mike Portnoy, the drum legend who played with Dream Theater in 2007, loved BTBAM so much the first time round, he lends a solo to Fix The Error.
Clearly, the record resonated with people – the band played it in full once for their Colors_LIVE DVD in 2008, and again on the 10th anniversary trek. Given their current US tour comprises a greatest hits set followed by a play- through of their fifth album, The Great Misdirect… how about a Colors/Colors II tour? Or is that too much of a ballache?
“Ha! That’s a good way to describe it,” says Dan. “A ballache! I was so fucking dead at the end of the Colors_ LIVE show – I couldn’t move the next day. I was just curled up in the back of the van. We were all just like, ‘Man, can you believe we did that? Never again.’ Now we’re about to go play for two and a half hours every night! As old men!”
While a Colors double-bill won’t happen for the sake of BTBAM’s brittle bones, it is worth noting that the Great Misdirect shows were originally announced last year to celebrate the band’s 20th birthday. After two decades of music that really shouldn’t work, music that still stretches the boundaries of metal to such a perverse extent, it almost seems flippant just calling them ‘metal’.
“We were coming out of the hardcore and metal world,” finishes Dan. “Throwing a bluegrass part into a song just was not normal back then.”
Fourteen years on, it still isn’t normal, mate.
Published in Metal Hammer #352. Colors II is out on August 20 via Sumerian