I first heard the name Between The Buried And Me around the time “Alaska” was released. A nascent metal fan delving deeper into the waters, I read as many reviews about as many albums as I could. The words that were written about “Alaska” were rhapsodic, a level of reverent praise that demanded I pay attention to the masterpiece the band had unleashed. And so, like anyone intent on experiencing the best music out there, I listened intently. Perhaps the timing was off, or I had yet to develop an appreciation for outside-the-box thinking, but “Alaska” left me feeling cold and empty. Whatever it was I wanted from music was absent, replaced with an avant-garde mixture of sounds that, in my mind, didn't belong together.
Times change, people change, and bands change as well. Between The Buried And Me has progressed even further into the abstract, this time producing “The Parallax II: Future Sequence”, a seventy-two minute concept album built from massive slabs of intricate and challenging music, all set to a story about a soul shared by two men across the universe. Easy listening this is not. Even the more manageable pieces, like the five minute “Astral Body”, are filled to the brim with more information than can be easily taken in. From the swirling and cyclical guitar riffs, to the stop/start dynamics, the band throws everything they can into the shorter running time, making it almost feel like an extended piece being rushed through to make room for the rest of the tracks.
The heart of the album lies in those five massive tracks, each approaching or blowing by the ten minute mark. They are the majority of the record, and alone carry the authority to decide its fate. The first, “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest”, is everything a progressive metal song could be, which is both praise and criticism. The song vacillates between pummeling moments of brutality punctuated by screaming, and sweeping passages that try valiantly to introduce broad, sweeping melody. There's no discernible structure to when and where these shifts occur, which does stave off any feeling of formula that even progressive bands fall into, but it also makes the track feel haphazard. There is little tying the music together as a cohesive piece, which dilutes the impact it can make as a singular song.
There are enough ideas even within that one track for other bands to make an album out of, and it's the concentration of material that ultimately defines what Between The Buried And Me is. They are one of those bands that is purely artistic, with no care for the effect their music will have on the people listening to it. It is an admirable trait to have as an artist, but one that does a disservice to the music when it's commercialized and put out for public consumption. There is simply too much going on throughout the entirety of the record, an overwhelming torrent of music that spills over the edge as buckets are lost to the already saturated listener.
That is the ultimate downfall of “The Parallax II: Future Sequence”. The record is too massive, too sprawling, and too committed to the purity of artistic expression. It is perhaps an odd thing to complain about, but art is a balancing act. There must be the moment of inspiration and the expression of the artist's thoughts and feelings, but it must at the same time be expressed in a way that allows the audience to understand and appreciate what they are witnessing. Much like a rainbow of paint thrown on a canvas doesn't become a painting until it is given a unifying theme to explain the chaos, music needs an emotional core to anchor the array of sounds. That is missing from the music Between The Buried And Me makes, a frustrating lack of empathy for the people who want to like what they have to offer, but feel left out in the cold by the refusal to give an inch towards accessability.
Are there moments of greatness on “The Parallax II: Future Sequence?” Undoubtedly there are, but they get lost among the lesser moments, to the point where it's hard to pull any particular riff or melody out from the whole. It's a shame, really, because when the great parts come along, the potential is evident. But instead of taking those great ideas and building them up into something that showcases their strengths, the songs disregard them and move on to the next idea. It's the kind of music that begs for a 'cut and paste' criticism, something that isn't out of bounds, given how the songs shift gears with little anticipation or explanation.
The verdict I can issue on “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” is two-fold. As an artistic statement, it is a dizzying piece of work. I can't fault the desire to indulge, nor the boundless creativity it takes to produce a work as maddening as this. On the other hand, as a piece of music, the album fails to do it's main job. It doesn't entertain and engage the listener so much as pummel them into submission. The songs don't reward sticking it out through their long running times with returns to the best motifs, nor do they promise more will come along to serve in their stead. It's an album that doesn't care what you think about it, that does whatever the band thinks is right.
I respect that, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.