I think we could sense this coming for a while. Between the Buried and Me have made their most cohesive prog epic album, but have essentially morphed into Dream Theater circa 2000. The album theme can’t be an accident. The songs are about what goes on in a man’s head while in a coma. If you’ll recall, Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory is about being in the head of a hypnotized person. Coincidence?
The first two tracks set the stage for the rest of the album. They have progressed towards a more melodic style, and structurally, they focus on building their ideas coherently. A problem that has always rubbed me the wrong way about BTBAM is their sudden shifts in ideas with no bridge between them.
Unfortunately, they also let certain ideas go on too long. By the end of the second track, I want them to stop singing, “You teach us what was.” The melodic idea is not interesting enough on its own to merit that much repetition.
By the third track we get what I’d like more of. They take something that could have been lifted right from some 80’s pop song, but they make it fit in their context. These unique ideas are what make BTBAM interesting and fresh. Unfortunately, they spend a lot of time just copying prog metal tropes. I can’t help but cringe when I hear ideas, riffs, and sounds lifted right from what people have been doing for the last 15 years.
About three-quarters of the way through “Famine Wolf,” they showcase that they can be great when they want to be. The guitar work is written with intricate counterpoint to the keyboard and other guitar. But then they lose it again to close the song out. It becomes lots of arpeggios around a chord progression which has that old school progressive vibe, but makes little sense as a musical idea.
After a few listens, I decided to cut the fifth track from my version of the album. It is one of the few places where they cross over to metal, but the album is vastly improved by removing it. The chorus is a cringeworthy anthem and the non-chorus part is a long string of clichés.
The second half of the album is a bit stronger than the first. They rely less on tropes and clichés. They infuse more original ideas into the prog formula, and the melodies feel less forced. I can’t help but think the first half was an attempt at hommage to their influences. I think the album would be infinitely improved if they focused on developing their own sound rather than copying someone else’s.
The album is quite good when they are on. They album is quite bad at other points. As with most prog metal concept albums, if they trimmed the fat, they could solve two problems at the same time: it is too long, repetitive, and drawn out; and it has too much extraneous stuff (filled with weak songwriting).
Once I stopped trying to take it at all seriously and decided to try to enjoy it for what it is, and I started skipping the worst parts, I kind of liked it. It can be quite fun and enjoyable. I think if they focused their efforts in the right place, BTBAM could take what they are doing here and make something truly excellent with it. For now, I give this a 6.5/10.
Here’s a sample: