Between The Buried And Me: Concept Kings
The clink of cutlery, the light buzz of chit chat and a swinging beat from a brass tinged song which plays out across Gorilla’s restaurant are the sounds that provide the underbelly, the soundtrack to a conversation covering much darker, more robust racket.
Between The Buried And Me’s pocket sized bassist – though a powerhouse on stage – is in a relaxed and jovial mood as we take a seat in the box office, away from the bustling restaurant and bar. Three days into their UK tour sees them call this swanky Manchester venue home for the evening. It’s one which is proving keener and keener to play host to some big name heavy bands – (the) Melvins and Uncle Acid are due here later in the year.
“It’s going well, this is the second tour of the Coma Ecliptic record, we played the states about a month ago. The new songs have a kinda different energy, you know? The way the songs are written we’re not expecting to see people jumping off the stage and going ape shit like they would to the material before on Colors.”
Their seventh studio album, new long player Coma Ecliptic, is, according to Dan, their “most cohesive” to date: “In terms of the music we did more with less. The song arrangements came very early in the process of writing each song; we knew where each song was going to go and how it would develop. On albums past we’d be seven minutes into a song and not know where it was going, how it was going to end and if we were at the middle at that point or nearing the end. Looking back I really questioned how we could write like that for so long.”
Telling the story of a man’s struggle with reality – traversing through the strange worlds within his self-induced coma – Coma Ecliptic is the progressive quintet’s third album to follow a conceptual plot. Dan takes a deep breath, lets a smile curve his lips and begins to explain the album’s grand idea – one that brings to mind the dystopian idealisms of The Matrix and Inception:
“It’s about a man who’s in a self-induced coma who’s traversing these weird worlds, which takes place across four songs. Musically, those songs all have their own feelings which really aids the story Tommy wrote. It’s about the character’s struggle with reality – the things he perceives are being real actually aren’t and he begins to realise that as the album progresses. Then he thinks he’s come out of the coma later on and he’s actually in another coma, so it’s a coma within a coma and realising maybe he’s never been present at all.
“Tommy’s influences were The Truman Show and The Twilight Zone, something where reality is twisted and strange.
“With The Parallax the concept came first, but it was never really laid out, the idea was just there and we thought it was really cool. But with Coma…, Tommy came in with the concept about half way through. So before then we were just writing thematically within itself, but having a concept makes it more meaningful and for us it’s a better way to focus on writing an album. This way it’s not just a collection of random songs, from the very first note it’s very purposeful and it ties into the bigger picture.
Bands like Mastodon and Coheed and Cambria have recently gone away from writing concept albums. “For them,” Dan muses “to write just a collection of songs is something different. But we have more fun and write our best stuff when there is that idea and theme.”
On the construction of the record, Dan talks about a very efficient band, one working with an intelligence to create a palette of sharply focussed compositions on a record which leaves elements of their abrasive past behind. But Between The Buried And Me, in 2015, are sounding like they could conquer planets, marrying their incredible musicianship with that new, welcoming energy that their bassist was telling us about:
“We’re not a band who writes through jams. We write at home, working on our own arrangements and then make little tweaks when we get together. We like for the most part of a song to be finished so we can just work on a song efficiently. Blake [Richardson, drums] will learn a part, record a scratch track then move onto the section. We’ll build on that, spend a day on guitars then have a few days off. After that we’d come back with a few ideas of what we wanted to change then work on the next song and that’s how we wrote – Monday through to Wednesday and get a song done every week. The whole process took about two to three months.
“Tommy tends to work to the music – his ideas come off the tone of the music. He had always hinted during the last touring cycle that he wanted to scream less and sing more so that was in my mind when I was writing. Everything I wrote was either on the keys or on an acoustic guitar. Writing like that forces you to have a more melodic centre, when you strip away the distortion you’re just writing the actual music. Take a band like Opeth, I think you can tell they write a lot of their stuff on acoustic guitars, even if it ends up being something loud, the structure, the chords and the melody has been approached with a sense of rawness.”
As more cutlery clatters in the other room, a glass chinks and a chesty, hearty laugh rises and falls above the hum of a Friday evening getting into full flow, Dan opens up on his perception of concept albums as a whole:
“A couple of my favourite records this year just so happen to be concepts: The Deer Hunter’s new record which just came out [Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise] and Steven Wilson’s Hand Cannot Erase which is a great conceptual record too. Over time, if I were to list my favourite albums, a lot of them will turn out to be concept records, and probably liked them before I realised what those albums were. Be it Pink Floyd, Dream Theatre, The Mars Volta, Cursive; these are all bands I grew up with.
“Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory was the first time concept albums really made sense to me; when I heard reoccurring musical themes and you got a gist of the story, you wanted to listen to it all the way through. I think with that format you wanna take it on as the whole, the lyrics, the artwork and everything that encompasses that. So with us, all our merchandise is directly inspired from our lyrics and the art. We did an artistic children’s book which told the story of The Parallax too. That story was very dense – I summed up the Coma… record in just a few sentences but that is complex. It started off with a really simple idea and just grew from there.
“I mean, a lot of concept albums I love I still don’t know every detail of the story – it’s not always clear. And I’m not really a lyric guy. With Genesis’ Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, I’ve been listening to that album in over ten years and there’s still points where I’m like ‘what the fuck is going on?’ The general idea I can follow but not every detail.
“I think that the most important thing is that it’s a good song and can stand on its own. If you have a good song it doesn’t matter what it’s about.”
And for that, Coma Ecliptic is a brilliant record. I’ll admit, it took a fair few listens for it to really imbed itself into my psyche, but now it’s there it’s refusing to budge. While the album flows better as the greater story – from the first delicate synths of Node to the punchdrunk distortion of Life In Velvet – these all do stand alone as finely crafted songs in their own right.
In 2015 BTBAM are smarter and more accessible for many – this is a record which will introduce them to a wealth of new fans both new to heavy music and aging, balding prog rock aficionados amongst us.
We leave the box office, Dan goes to find his bandmates and your humble scribe, somewhat famished, heads back to the restaurant to add to that perennial clink clinking of knives and forks.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin