IN 2005 Between the buried and me was a blip on the radar for underground metalheads, too unpredictable for casual metalcore fans and too core for prog heads. Plagued by eight lineup changes in just two years and problems with their label, BTBAM could have easily folded, but once frontman Tommy Rogers and guitarist Paul Wagoner met guitarist Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson, Between the Buried and Me achieved a chemistry that would propel them forward as one of the most important acts of the 21st century.
The new BTBAM lineup showed enormous potential in the 2005s Alaska, reaching new compositional heights with cuts like “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” and “All Bodies.” Although clearly more polished, Alaska wasn’t much of a stylistic leap from the 2003s The silent circus. But in 2007, rumors began to spread of a ridiculous “rock opera” experiment by the newly minted five-piece band that threatened to catastrophically challenge everything fans knew about BTBAM.
Instead of releasing singles to promote the upcoming record, Between the Buried and Me released short color-coded teasers featuring clips from classic films. A total of eight videos would appear (one per song), each disappearing completely within 24 hours. On Sept. 18, 2007, however, fans finally caved Colors wormhole as Tommy Rogers’ piano lured them into a lush burst of sonic jubilation.
About seven minutes into the album, Colors‘ first “What the hell?” moments began to emerge towards the end of “(B) The Decade of Statues” before plunging into full-on Indiana Jones territory about “casual gluttony.” Colors it was going to be a trip… and a dazzling one.
“We wrote a musically conceptual, no-rules, nothing-back-on-the-table record,” recalls Dan Briggs Metal injection. “We didn’t just have to write a record, we had to live in it; eat, sleep and breathe. We wanted to push ourselves and no one would hear from us until we had brought the album full circle and delivered it as a complete piece.”
How stupid is too stupid? Where does that line exist, and how does a band constantly dance millimeters before it, mocking the consequences of crossing when they really don’t care? Musicians like Frank Zappa, System of a Down, Primus and BTBAM’s largest Colors influence Pink Floyd, had achieved legendary status by shedding the fear of not being taken seriously. To create their own The dark side of the moon was something of a common goal as the young BTBAM lineup traded off their individual influences Emperor to Oingo Boingo, in training.
Having prepared the listeners with some weirdness during the opening songs to Colors, “Sun of Nothing” is where any other band would have fallen off the rails; three minutes into the song, it suddenly turns into something that sounds like a bootleg Russian Disneyland ride soundtrack, into a crushing breakdown, and then into a beautiful neoclassical guitar orgy… and it worked!
But even “Sun of Nothing” is nothing compared to “The Ants of Heaven”. The 13-minute track weaves in and out of demented carnival metal, psychedelic solos, smooth jazz guitar, space rock and a damn country hoedown… not to mention the most tear-droppingly beautiful solo of Paul Waggoner’s career:
Between the Buried and Me, “Ants of the Sky” (Live)
Continues Colors as a single piece at 63 minutes, “Ants” blends seamlessly into the “Prequel to the Sequel” with the giant Star Fox riff; a transition smoother than a Morgan Freeman movie voiceover. More faux-Russian experiments follow, before a vicious vocal trade-off between Tommy Rogers and Fear Before’s Adam Fisher drives “Prequel” into hyperdrive. The word “comfort” never felt so uncomfortable.
Then there’s Briggs’ magnum opus bass piece, “Viridian”: like the work of Pink Floyd, this instrumental solo needs no words to convey boundless emotional depth. The lines are masterfully placed, and if the guitar solo for “Comfortably Numb” were suddenly personified, it would certainly tip its hat to Briggs.
Finally, in what would become a BTBAM tradition throughout future concept albums, closing track to Colors was reserved for the most intense, progressive and downright epic piece. “White Walls” is widely considered by fans to be BTBAM’s greatest song, and is the supernova of Colors‘spectacular longevity. Like a clairvoyant, Tommy Rogers exclaims: “We will be remembered for that,” for more than 30 seconds before the song moves toward the towering “White walls!“collapse.
Between the Buried and Me, “White Walls”
In terms of creative progression, Between the Buried and Me’s journey from Alaska into Colors is related Mastodonis from Remission to Leviathan or Dream Theateris from When dream and day unite to Pictures and words. Colors is the moment Between the Buried and Me discovered who they were as a band, and parts of that transformation can easily be found in every single BTBAM album prior to their 2007 masterpiece.
Through countless growing pains, Between the Buried and Me carved a portrait in the hall of the prog gods Colorsan album metalheads continues to hold up as one of the most important heavy works of the century.