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Between the Buried and Me: Alaska, 20th Anniversary Remix/Remaster

11-02-2020 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 112

Between the Buried and Me Alaska

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of progressive / hardcore / metalcore band Between the Buried and Me, and Craft Recordings continues to celebrate this watershed moment with remix / remasters of the band's entire catalog. Now up: BTBAM's third studio album, 2005's milestone release Alaska, which gives us the band featuring their current lineup for the first time, and finds them delving more deeply into the progressive aspects of their music. BTBAM had planned an extensive 20th anniversary tour with a lot of cool bands, but then, 2020 happened, and of course the tour had to be canceled. The tour will eventually go on, but for now, the band remains focused on this excellent series of remix / remasters of their entire catalog. Alaska features founding members Tommy Giles Rogers on lead vocals, keyboards, and piano, along with lead guitarist and vocalist Paul Waggoner; new members appearing for the first time on a BTBAM album include Dan Briggs on bass, programming, and background vocals, Dusty Waring on rhythm guitar, and Blake Richardson on drums and percussion. In the seemingly ever-changing world of prog and metal music, for the group to remain intact for over fifteen years is indeed impressive!

Alaska was recorded for Victory Records in June, 2005, with producer Jamie King at the controls in his Basement Studios in Raleigh, NC; he has returned for the remix / remaster of the original tapes, which also took place in the Basement. Prior to the album's initial release, Victory Records altered the final mix; that left the band much less than satisfied with the tapes that were presented to their fans and to the public. Vocalist Tommy Rogers was recently asked how he felt about the new remix / remaster of Alaska, and how he thinks the album has held up in BTBAM's canon of recorded music. He responded with the following: "The new mix has really reconfirmed how much I enjoy this album. The Alaska era was a huge turning point for the band, and I think [the remix / remaster of] this album now sounds how we originally intended it to. Hopefully, our fans will reconnect with the album in a new way like I have. Regardless, I'm extremely excited for the world to hear these songs!" 

Rhythm guitarist Dusty Waring reverberted Rogers' enthusiasm: "Alaska has always been mega-special to us, as it was our first record with this line-up. I'm very excited for everyone to hear this album in the way that we originally envisioned it." Bassist Dan Briggs summed up the reality of the situation, reflecting on just joining the band in 2005: "this record was written while three of us were under 21 and only one of us was old enough to rent a car in any of the 50 states. We wrote it in Blake's old bedroom in his parents' basement and recorded it in Jamie King's parents' basement. Now it has been remixed in Jamie's current basement [Basement Studios], and we are old and still playing in Blake's parents' basement." Drummer Blake Richardson—whose drum tone was criticized by some on the original release—offered his own assessment of the new remix / remaster: "I'm really excited for everyone to hear this record with a drum tone that doesn't sound like the bottom snare mic was blasted to 500 percent."

While one of the trademarks of any BTBAM release are Tommy Rogers' insanely intense death growls and chants—and they're in evidence throughout Alaska—the musical growth the band has shown with this album is nothing short of remarkable. Paul Waggoner still shreds and offers bluesy and frequently melodic leads, often at death-defying speeds, but the injection of Dusty Waring's bold, energetic, often aggressive rhythm guitar figures into the mix has given an overall much harder edge to the sound of the band. New bassist Dan Briggs proved to be a versatile addition to the band, showing incredible technique and providing a skillful polyrhythmic underpinning. And while Blake Richardson's drumming might not have reached the level of mastery he's shown on more recent BTBAM albums, his playing was on-point, and his excellent stick work punctuates every tune throughout Alaska.

Alaska is probably BTBAM's most interesting and creatively challenging record yet, and despite pretty much being—once again—stylistically all over the place, the band tends to venture less often (than on the previous two records) into jarring, stylistic transitions. Side One opens with "All Bodies," a powerful meditation on the meaning of our existence; are we just slaves to the man—or do we perhaps have a higher purpose. In a jubilant and triumphal chorus, Rogers opines, "Keeper of the stars, I hope to never find...we are just mortal souls...left to die." While up to this point, the song is a pretty much straight-ahead thrash / metal outing, following the first chorus, more stark prog elements begin to emerge, especially in Waggoner's soloing, along with the periodic appearance of Rogers' keyboards, which become more dominant as the recording proceeds. The title track "Alaska" opens to some really nifty fretwork from Waggoner, accompanied by what is undeniably Rogers' most prog-influenced keyboard turn on the entire album. Side One culminates with "Croakies and Boatshoes," which is kind of an homage to the Swedish metal band Meshuggah; it's maybe the weakest song on the entire album thematically, but, hey—it's campy and fun. With Rogers chanting, "Dang, my loafer got smudged," to "Dude, brah, lets go party tonight...maybe start another goddamn fight...but it's alright, my coach knows the sheriff." 

Side Two opens with one of the album's definite highlights and a perennial concert favorite for the band, "Selkies: The Endless Obsession;" selkies are creatures in Scottish and Norse mythology that are shapeshifters of sorts. They take the shape of seals while in the sea, but can also take human form, where the males are very handsome, and the females are equally beautiful; both possess an excess of sexual prowess, without the potential horror sometimes presented by other mer creatures. I'm not going to dwell on the lyrical content of the song; let's just say that BTBAM has crafted a tune here of enduring popularity that combines thematic elements that span across thrash metal, acoustic melodicism, and electronic prog. Midway through the seven-minute tune, the action slows to a proggish meditation that features a really striking acoustic piano bit; the song then accelerates with some really great guitar work from Waggoner. "Breathe In, Breathe Out" is a brief instrumental interlude between "Selkies" and "Roboturner," a seven-minute machine-vs-human opus with a couple of breaks that are reminiscent of peak period Rush. All in all, a  surprisingly entertaining tune. 

This is the only point in the proceedings where I actually preferred the digital files to the LPs; "Backwards Marathon" that opens Side Three really seems to flow effectively from Side Two-ending "Roboturner," which seems to end really abruptly on the LP, but flows really nicely via the digital files. Anyway, "Backwards Marathon" starts as two-plus minutes of propulsive, straight-ahead thrash metal, then slows to a hazy, lengthy interlude awash with guitars and synths. Blake Richardson contributes some nice brush and cymbal work, before pounding the song back into its thrash origins. It eventually cross-fades into the tune "Medicine Wheel;" another mostly melodic brief interlude. Again, the LP side break is a bit unfortunate, because the tune cross-fades with a heart-pounding Richardson drumbeat intro into "The Primer," which opens side four, and features some interestingly abrupt time-signature changes, before fading into an oddly configured guitar outro leading to "Autodidact," another great mashup of prog and thrash, a kind of metal meditation on being self-taught, where Rogers proposes to simply "just let go and become a giant." The record concludes with "Laser Speed," which is basically three minutes of Paul Waggoner strumming what eventually becomes this kind of bossa-nova groove. It's a strange, but interesting conclusion to a strangely entertaining album.

Clocking in at just a shade under 55 minutes, Alaska has been presented by Craft Recordings on a two-LP set that's pressed on heavyweight black vinyl; I've seen mention of a limited edition red-marbled colored vinyl available for this release, but haven't been able to find a link or any additional information regarding it. Craft's decision to press the album on two LPs is great for those of us with audiophile aspirations; the improved groove geometry frees the inner grooves from getting too crowded on the tail of the LPs, so there's very little (if any) inner-groove distortion present on these pressings. The vinyl was very clean and glossy, with very few pops and clicks apparent and with very little surface noise during playback. I did most of my listening with my usual ProJect Classic table with Hana SL moving coil cartridge, feeding the PrimaLuna tube setup that played into my Zu Audio Omen loudspeakers, and the resulting sound was nothing less than exceptional. 

You can purchase the 2-LP vinyl release from Craft Recordings HERE; at the point when I received my review copy in late October, the initial pressing run was already completely sold out. However, it's in the process of being repressed, and should be available again in early November, and there's probably also a decent chance you might be able to snag one from your local independent record store. And the remixed / remastered reissue is also available digitally on most streaming services; in addition to my time spent with the excellent LPs, as noted above, I also checked out the digital files via download and Qobuz. They were outstanding, and in places allowed for better flow of the music than the LPs did. Squeezing 27 minutes onto a single LP side—while possible—would have been a definite mistake, and Craft made the correct decision here. Alaska offers us the first glimpse of BTBAM in their current incarnation, and it shows quite clearly the band's significant growth musically. It's a landmark moment in the band's catalog, and the reissue from Craft Recordings is very highly recommended! Many thanks to Jacob Mask from ChummyPress!

Between the Buried and Me:  Alaska.

Craft Recordings, 2-LP set, $29.99 USD.