Between the Buried and Me - Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade)

Epic, wondrous stuff...

Forget the lazy prog references you’ll read elsewhere in reviews of Coma Ecliptic, the seventh studio full-lengther from North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me. Sure, the band are progressive as all getout, but here, perhaps more than on any of their other albums, the band hint at a full-on affinity for that most maligned of seventies genres, pomp rock, in all it’s lustrous, ludicrous, stack-heeled glory.

Pomp rock, y’see, was the glorious conjugation of prog rock and heavy metal, especially popular in the US through the good offices of bands like Kansas and Styx (not to mention UK behemoths Queen), and the first two tracks on this record, the gently uplifting Node and the heavier, though no less appealing The Coma Machine are shot through with glorious echoes of all three of the above-mentioned artistes.

Coma Ecliptic could just have well been called Coma Eclectic, as the band rolls out all of the twists and turns for which it has become justifiably notable over the years – vocalist Tommy Rogers in particular never fails to amaze as he switches from Dennis DeYoung croon to Glenn Benton death grunting in the blink of an eye – but, for all the tech death blast passages from rhythm section Blake Richardson and Dan Briggs (drums and bass respectively) and spiralling, sinuous guitar work from Paul Waggoner and Dusty Waring, the ear is drawn back to these glorious slabs of unreconstructed pomp on which the band base the album. It’s a glorious thing to behold.

Dim Ignition fuses the cold electronic pulses of krautrock to the framework, the effect as a whole being of Muse jamming on a long-lost Dream Theater number, and it segues smoothly (as do all the tracks, which creates a single, fluid, hour-long listening experience) into the effortlessly mellifluous Famine Wolf, which belies its deathly title to actually sound like a beautiful collision between Bach and Rush.

But it’s the following track – King Redeem, Queen Serene – that really gets the heat rising under the collar and the pulse racing. It’s so good I’ve had to invent a new pigeonhole to house it, so please welcome BtBaM as the new Gods of total pomp death. Here is perhaps the very nub of the Between the Buried and Me in 2015, and what a nub it turns out to be. A scorching synthesis of out n’out death metal mayhem, and florid, baroque, neo-seventies instrumentation with one hand firmly on the switch labelled ‘grandiose overblown rock overload’ whilst the other stabs away at a conveniently placed Hammond B3, this is quite clearly the sort of music this band was born to create. And it slays.

After the sheer sensory deluge of King… there’s nowhere to go but down, and the band sensibly offers respite in the subdued form of the start of Turn on the Darkness. This doesn’t last long, mind, and the song soon lifts into a glorious piece of aggressive death-tinged prog before – and I’m not making this up – morphing midway through into something Peter Frampton might have cooked up in the mid seventies. This might all sound a bit contrived, a bit ‘for the sake of it’, but believe me, the whole thing is astounding and it works. 

The Ectopic Stroll is a jaunty, lively piece that has strong elements of Queen woven through it – it’s maybe what Freddie and Brian would sound like were they just establishing themselves today – but again there’s a strongly modern edge to the track too, with jarring mathcore keys and blasting snares adding a touch of madness to proceedings, the whole leaving the listener breathless and battered but eager to find out what’s coming next…

Rapid Calm is actually what comes next, and it’s perhaps the most straightforward track on offer on Coma Ecliptic, melding a quiet start to a superb, Black Album-style battery at the end. The following track, Memory Palace, is pure pomp, its multifarious elements snaking around a rock solid base from Richardson and Briggs, and again those Muse/Dream Theater receptors in your brain are getting tugged; The track runs out in utterly fabulous Pink Floyd-meets Kansas style. And if penultimate track Option Oblivion can’t quite live up to the multi-facetted grandeur of Memory Palace that’s not because it’s a duff track – it isn’t. 

In fact it’s another fine piece of ultra-modern heavy metal - almost the rest of the album in a four-and-a-half-minute microcosm – and it hastens the end of a frankly amazing piece of work in superb style. That end finally comes with the gentle Life in Velvet, with Waggoner and Waring saving some of their best work til last as the track swells to an optimistic, uplifting end. 

Coma Ecliptic is easily Between the Buried and Me’s most complete, most satisfying work, and if some longstanding fans might bemoan the ever-dwindling quota of extreme metal to be found as the band progress their canon, many more new fans are going to flock to the cause after repeated exposure to this fabulous album. A modern masterpiece. 

 

Coma Ecliptic is out now on Metal Blade