Crate-Digging: Between the Buried and Me – Alaska

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Victory, 2005)

I love it when death metal bands don’t look like death metal bands. Between the Buried and Me look like your typical emo chumps: suburban white boys, short hair, no overt distinguishing characteristics. They’re not huge, long-haired, tatted thugs in all black, and yet they’re louder, faster, and more technical than most bands comprised of dudes who either look like Hollywood-imagined bikers or ex-special forces mercs. It’s kind of nice when the look of a band defies your expectaitions. But you may have noticed, I did pigeonhole the band’s genre – upon first impressions, it’s easy to throw the “death metal” tag at them, and as such I kind of do the band a disservice. There are prog, hardcore, punk, and even pop influences sprinkled throughout, albeit sparingly (particularly the pop). Hell, they’ve released an all-covers record, The Anatomy Of, on which they tackle tunes by those who have influenced them, including Metallica, Pantera, Pink Floyd, Smashing Pumpkins, Blind Melon (!), and King Crimson. So there’s a lot going on. But those vocals, for the most part buried in the deep end of vocalist Tommy Rogers throat, are mainly guttural death metal growls interspersed with hardcore screams – passive music this is not. And I’ve never been a metal guy, not until the past two years or so, and therefore it’s telling that I prefer the growls to the points throughout the album where Rogers actually sings. He’s really good, really rhythmic in delivery.

But I never would have gotten into this band or this album had it not been for the relentless persistence of my brother Kyle, and so I invite him here for a discussion of the merits of Between the Buried and Me. (Note: I did not really invite Kyle here, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t think like this at all. But I’m going to poke that beehive anyway.)

ME: So, you’ve been trying to get me to listen to these guys for a while – why’d you think I’d like…

KYLE: Freaking metal dude! [Starts playing air guitar like crazy.] Wha-na-na-na-na-na!

ME: Yeah man, metal. It’s really good. It’s kinda all over the place, starting and stopping on a dime, soaring and diving. The time signature changes are really tight, the wirting incredibly technical. Reminds me a bit of Dillinger Escape Plan in that sense.

KYLE: Dude, remember that time that Mike Patton sang for Dillinger? Holy crap that was great. Mike Patton rules. Mike Patton foreva! [Throws up devil horns.]

ME: He’s the man. Irony Is a Dead Scene is a great EP too – not a wasted second on it. I can also hear Converge in the band’s sound – another great outfit in this genre.

KYLE: And Tool. And Mr. Bungle. I love Tool. Tool, Tool, Tool. Killer riffs! Maynard rules. [Singing:] “Why can we not be sober?” I wish I wasn’t sober. Do you have any Captain Morgan’s? Yeah. Or Corona. Beer me, homes.

ME: What? We’re at the park. Do you see a fridge here on this bench? C’mon. But I don’t think Between the Buried and Me gets caught up in the insanity of being as math-y as Dillinger (or even Tool). They’re really influenced by prog (right, like Tool), and even though they do retain the metal touchstones I’ve mentioned, they’re able to let the compositions breathe and unfold, as evidenced by five tracks on the album lasting upwards of five and a half minutes. You can really hear the Pink Floyd and King Crimson influences in places where the crystalline guitar breaks away from the chugging riffs. That formula has obviously been borrowed and perfected by The Mars Volta as well, and even though the two bands couldn’t be more aesthetically different, there’s a deep connection by way of composition.

KYLE: I saw Between the Buried and Me live play a half-hour head-crushing medly, and I was in the pit for the whole thing! Absolutely killer. Mars Volta is pretty good.

ME: Yeah, it’s weird, the singer sounds like Cedric Bixler at times. And he’s got a pretty soothing tenor on the back half of “Backwards Marathon,” the slow, non-metal half. But he lets it rip for the most part – what a great trifecta leading off the album too, “All Bodies,” “Alaska,” and “Croakies and Boatshoes.” Talk about head-crushing. And what are they going fishing or something? Is that an Alaska thing? Is there a lyrical theme or something throughout? I can’t tell what they’re saying. I don’t think anyone can.

KYLE: Whoa, too many questions. How should I know? Can we listen to Alaska now? I’m tired of talking about it. Less talk, more rawk!

ME: Sure, sure. Whatever you want. Jeez. I am about ready, though, for the absolute marathon headbanging sessions like “Roboturner” and “Autodidact.” Brutal stuff. Face-melting. And incredibly compelling – songs like those go so many places, and yet they don’t let up. I’ve listened to the record five times in the past couple days now, and it just doesn’t get old. One thing though – I played the album for Mom, and she hates it, but she loves album closer “Laser Speed,” a straight-up instrumental tropicalia track. What’s up with that?

KYLE: That song’s stupid.

ME: Fine, OK. How about the fact that Between the Buried and Me are named after a Counting Crows lyric? Now, for real, what’s up with that?

KYLE: How should I know? Screw the Counting Crows.

ME: Screw the Counting Crows, indeed. You got ice cream on your shorts.

KYLE: Dammit.

RIYL: Pantera, Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan, Dream Theater

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