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Between the Buried and Me - 20th Anniversary Remix/Remaster

05-18-2020 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 109

Formed in 2000 from the remnants of a handful of Raleigh, North Carolina bands, Between the Buried and Me was principally the brainchild of guitarist Paul Waggoner and vocalist Tommy Rogers. And while the group has gone through a number of personnel changes, the band's current incarnation features not only Waggoner and Rogers, but also Dusty Waring on guitar, Dan Briggs on bass, keys, and vocals, and Blake Richardson on drums; this lineup has held firm since 2005. And while the label Progessive Hardcore seems to most often get attached to the band, I hear influences in their music as diverse as classic Sabbath, Metallica, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. The current incarnation of the band has fallen into more of the Prog Metal category, with BTBAM regularly mentioned in conversations that include Opeth, Dream Theater, and Mastodon—they're often referred to as a thinking man's metal band. The band was a favorite of local Atlanta (my hometown) college radio in the mid-2000s, regularly getting extensive airplay on Wreck Radio (WREK Georgia Tech) and Album 88 (WRAS Georgia State).

Recorded over a span of about a week between December 2001 and January 2002, Between the Buried and Me's eponymous first full-length record wasn't originally released in the US; it was only available as an import on the German Lifeforce label. Eventually the band was noticed stateside by Victory Records, and Between the Buried and Me finally got its domestic release on CD in 2004. Though not particularly successful commercially or critically at the time of its initial release, its reputation has grown throughout the years; the AllMusic site praised it as "One of the fiercest albums in the hardcore community." 

The May 15 release on Craft Recordings honors the twentieth anniversary of the band, and marks the first time the record has ever been made available in the LP format. There's a limited edition (500 copies) 180 gram clear vinyl version; I was lucky enough to get one as my promo copy, but unfortunately, it's already completely sold out! The standard 180 gram version is still available; the record is also available as a digital download, and will also be available on most of the major streaming services. BTBAM's website also offered numerous advance bundles that included a copy of the clear vinyl issue; the word obviously got out quickly, because the bundles are completely sold out. I'd nose around some independent record stores when things start opening up again, and I'd be willing to bet that quite a few copies of the clear vinyl ended up being sold for resale via retailers. If you're a big fan of the band, or even just a collector of beautiful objects, it's well worth seeking out. 

Original album producer Jamie King was brought onboard for the remix and remaster; he's developed quite a reputation as a producer among metal bands. His Basement Studios (also in NC) was the location of the original recording dates; while the original session tapes for Between the Buried and Me were remarkably well-recorded, his new mix gives an additional level of clarity that benefits the sound greatly. I listened to both the digital files and LP, and while both sounded superb via the PrimLuna tube amp playing into my Zu Audio Omen loudspeakers, I'd give the final nod to the LP, which offered a slightly more organic touch to the overall sound. The Craft Recordings' LP was absolutely pristine, with perfectly flat sides and zero surface noise—it was as close to perfection in an LP pressing as I've gotten in quite some time.

Founding BTBAM members Paul Waggoner and Tommy Rogers both chimed in regarding the reissue LP's release: to quote guitarist Paul Waggoner, "It's always a strange feeling when you bring faded memories back into focus and find yourself reflecting on an adventure that started two decades ago and somehow still continues to this day. All the daily ups-and-downs and side-to-sides of being in a band can sometimes blur the past and make you forget where you came from, and why you started doing this thing in the first place. So it's nice to dig up the bones of our humble beginnings, make them sound a little better, and present them to the people that have made this all possible." And vocalist Tommy Rogers also added, "If you told me in 2001 that this album we recorded in five days would eventually turn into a career that's lasted 20 years, I would think you were absolutely mad. Here we are in 2020 getting to remix and remaster what started it all. It's been a great experience listening back and giving this original Between the Buried and Me album a new life. We hope the fans enjoy this new mix by Jamie King as much as we have."

Between the Buried and Me combined a number of sub genres under a single banner; with elements of prog, hardcore, technical, death metal, and math metal, BTBAM pushed a lot of boundaries upon release in 2002. From the opening notes of "More of Myself to Kill," you realize you're in for a wild ride—the tune is an all-out assault on the senses. Jamie King's absolute mastery at the recording console guaranteed that everything the band laid down was perfectly captured on the tapes. Will Goodyear's drums simply pummel your brain with incredible realism, while Nick Fletcher and Paul Waggoner's guitars sear from one solo to the next. The twin guitars are placed in the left and right of the soundfield, with Goodyear's drum kit and bassist Jason King spread across the center stage; vocalist Tommy Rogers is front and center, as it should be. 

Never afraid to tackle tough subject material, the track "Arsonist" takes aim at the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, with a blistering, no-quarter attack on the church's well-publicized, overtly, holier-than-thou posturing against homosexuality. Rogers' death chant proclaims, "I will always watch..until the last church is burned, until the guilty drown in blood, until the preachers of filth cease to be." Powerful words, and a much needed philosophical match thrown onto the fire intended to burn the purveyors of hate and oppression. "What Have We Become" showcases crunching guitar chords amid constantly fluctuating time signatures, as Rogers proclaims, "we are pleasured from this...thinking this is progress...progress stopped lifetimes ago." "Naked by the Computer" opens with about sixty seconds of unabashed melodicism; then Goodyear's drums absolutely pound away as the song segues into a driving guitar figure that propels the song into Tommy Rogers brutal vocal, proclaiming "your dark empty life...will be the only one you know." The sprawling, nine-minute-plus "Shevanel Cut a Flip" plows through three and a half minutes of death metal madness, only to suddenly shift into an extended melodic and uptempo vamp with fluid vocals and shimmering guitars.

If the band was criticized for any aspect of their initial outing, it was that perhaps it lacked focus or structure; while that criticism does carry some weight, in the realm of prog and math rock, bands often ignore most, or all of the rules—and BTBAM definitely shows an aversion to any kind of orderly presentation. In retrospect—almost two decades later—the debut album shows little, if any, wear for the worse, and perhaps much greater cohesion than first imagined by the critics. Regardless, it's still a never less than intensely thrilling introduction to the band's potent and powerful metal mission statement. Very highly recommended, and definitely grab the vinyl, if you can find it!

Between the Buried and Me: Craft Recordings, 180 gram vinyl, also available in limited edition clear vinyl.