18th September 2015
Review by Grey Blackstone
Photography by Rodd Weiler
Videography by GR Studios
Tonight we’re in Gorilla, a medium sized venue in Manchester City Centre which lies a few minutes’ walk away from the central transport hub and is tucked away down a side street heading towards the trendy student area. It somehow seamlessly blends bar, restaurant and live music venue all into one, and has modern but characterful décor.
We’re here to cover the European leg of Between the Buried and Me’s latest tour, in conjunction with the release of their new album “Coma Ecliptic”. The album itself is a fantastically complex and rich piece of work which flows perfectly from start to finish, showcasing the band’s developing artistry and progression of musical style; as a result we’re pretty damned excited to see them on stage.
Before the gig we were able to catch up with Ross Jennings, lead singer of Haken, and Paul Waggoner of BTBAM. Both were extremely down-to-earth and friendly, and Paul gave us a particular insight into the feelings and concepts behind his band’s music. (We’re not going to give it all away now though, so watch this space as we’ll be posting the full videos on IV soon!)
Buzzing with anticipation, we have to hurry to the front of the stage in order to get a good view as the doors open and a throng of fans gravitate forwards. People bustle around, excitedly talking with each other about the album, the previous times they’d seen both bands live, and wondering about the setlist.
After a short time, the house lights go down and support band Haken take to the stage. Smiling and confident, their stage presence was welcoming. For those who don’t know of them, they have a diverse musical style including progressive metal, jazz, and a number of other elements. Haken proceed to take us through their setlist, a varied mix of songs, mainly focusing on their album ‘The Mountain’, but also including works from ‘Visions’ and their latest EP ‘Restoration’. Towards the end of their set they play what is perhaps the standout track, “Cockroach King”:
Opening with a powerful and dramatic riff, it instantly switches into surprisingly fitting and intricate acapella, sounding as though it was plucked from the soundtrack of a darkly comic musical theatre production. The stage is bathed in golden light, perfectly reflecting the lyrics of the song. It crescendos into a terrifically cheeky and bouncy riff, and nobody in the audience can stay still; not even those who’ve never heard the band before. Ross dances around the stage, lost in his musical performance and feeding off the crowd, and while the other band members stay in their places to give him room, they bang their heads, grin at each other and convey a sense of warmth to the band relationship. The song features an early section jazz breakout, with cheeky and fruity solos from both Conner on bass and Diego on keys.
After a return to the chorus we’re treated to an impassioned and serpentine jazz-metal solo from Charlie, another brief jazz interlude and a devastatingly incandescent solo from Rich.
Ross leaves the stage for the most part of it, giving the other band members a share of the limelight but still smiling and nodding his head from the sidelines. When he returns, we revisit the soaring chorus before plunging back to the intro riff in full swing. With his encouragement, the crowd are waving their arms side to side, acting as one vast metronome to underpin the colossal riffage. It’s intense, a vibrant performance, and perhaps most of all, it’s fun. They enjoy themselves and clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, fitting the strange and darkly humorous tone which pervades the majority of their music.
To finish they play “Crystallised”, an 18-minute feel-good prog masterpiece from their Restoration EP. There are shades of the classic prog bands here, some Yes and Camel bleeding into their own musical style. The chorus is joyous and triumphant and begs to be sung along to. Partway into the song the tone grows more sinister, and showcases another scorching jazz-metal solo courtesy of Rich. To the crowd’s surprise and delight, this section culminates in Diego taking front of stage with a keytar solo, unique but oddly fitting. The song continues to flow through shifting tones and moods, complex enough to warrant an article on itself, and finishes with a return to the chorus and a beautifully upbeat ending. Haken demonstrate their musical talents perfectly, and were an excellent choice to support BTBAM due to the complexity yet differing tones and styles of both bands’ music and performances.
We’re given a brief intermission to process what we’ve just seen and get ready for the main band’s appearance, and to allow the technicians to disassemble and reassemble drum kits, keyboards and amplifiers ready for them. Just behind me, a couple of American fans who have faithfully followed the tour are talking about how stoked they are to see this show.
Suddenly cheers, shouts and applause break out as Between the Buried and Me walk on stage. Almost immediately, sorrowful strings sing from centre stage, joined soon after by a cavalcade of cinematic percussives. Both guitars blast out in harmony, Tommy simply shouts “Manchester!” and the crowd burst into life once more. The sound crescendos to a halt, and driving out of this we hear the familiar synth intro to “Selkies”. Starting with an old favourite was a wise idea as the audience erupt with joy, filling the room with their voices. Guitars and drums join in perfect synchronisation, complex time signatures played with expert skill.
Despite the deliberately uneven pattern to the music, the crowd nod, shift and weave to the song, clearly having done so many times before. Tommy displays his more recently increased vocal range with siren-esque wails breaking into sporadic growls and giving a fresh twist to the experience. Being a song from earlier in the band’s repertoire, it shows more of their metalcore influences with pummelling double-bass drums and thrashing riffs, Tommy’s guttural roars tearing through the sound. It’s a very powerful and intricate song, with some swing rhythms later on giving way to a return to the intro riff.
Next up, without a moment’s pause for breath, the suspenseful piano melody signifies the start of the latest album’s most-recognised track: “The Coma Machine”:
Piano, guitar and drums work with perfectly-measured unity to pound out the riffy, dramatic intro. Tommy’s vocals sail over the sound, catchy melodies dancing around the acoustic space and boring directly into the brain. Paul’s guitar playing is dazzling, as he sweeps with an unearthly combination of machine-like precision and graceful fluidity. The next section is harrowing and suspenseful, Tommy singing eerily as Dan gives him foundation with the piano, bass casually slung out of the way as he seamlessly transitions between instruments. The crowd gyrate, eyes closed and hypnotised by the music. Then suddenly, without warning, Tommy rips the microphone from its stand as the song explodes, with him climbing the monitors front-of stage in his primal aggression, towering over the crowd. Blue light floods the stage, with shafts of red and white piercing and rolling around the venue with disorienting ferocity, fitting well with the dynamic of the song.
Despite not being a visual theme from the official music video, the colours seem perfect for the tone of the music. The middle section is perfectly rendered, replete with cathedral bells. Switching without effort, we return to the anthemic chorus before going to the blistering solo section. Paul is utterly unstoppable, and his guitarwork defies belief for its combination of character and meticulousness. With a final return to the chorus, the song’s bittersweet finale leaves the crowd in awe.
Demonstrating their unrelenting determination, the band launch immediately into the next song in the setlist, “Astral Body”. The song comes from Parallax 2: The Future Sequence and showcases the band’s developing technical metal aspects and their use of space in a musical composition, contrasting the more relentless earlier works. That said, it’s played with a particular intensity, the band’s seemingly endless energy giving the song undeniable vibrancy. Following it is “Lay your Ghosts to Rest”, again from P2:FS and one of my personal favourites thanks to the cheeky bouncy polka-ska inspired sections and its wonderful combination of the band’s terrifyingly brutal early works and mature and complex recent projects. Head-banging riffage and eerie melotron-styled synth provide a nice change in dynamic.
The audience can’t help but dance to the groove, and there’s not a moment of disconnection between band and fans. In the heavier sections I’m acutely aware of the aforementioned American fan’s hair whipping me as she thrashes around, completely unaware of the fact that she may be gradually flaying me alive thanks to her investment in the music.
At this point it’s clear to me just how professional this band are. Not a single note is missed, nor a beat out of time. The only word for it is tight. Quite possibly the tightest musical act I’ve seen since Sabbath, and they’ve been at it for generations. In fact it was almost disturbing to see them deliver their entire setlist without even the tiniest imperfection.
Next we move onto “Memory Palace”, another song from the new album. It’s majestic and inspired, and again delivered with the kind of vibrant vitality and practised professionalism which I now expect from any band I’ll see in the future.
To follow this, they play another song from Coma Ecliptic, “Famine Wolf”. Not yet as published as the other played tracks, Paul asked us to film this specifically to get it publicised:
Smoothly following from the previous song, we are treated to Dusty’s dissonant guitar followed by Paul’s resplendent sweeping. From my position in front of the stage, Blake’s bass drum threatens to kick a hole in my chest, but I embrace the sensation, letting it bring me closer to the music with a physical connection. Their performance is utterly furious, the fidelity to the studio version being enhanced by the energy of seeing it performed in front of us. Later in the song Tommy hits some piercing and tremendously impressive high notes which even the banshees of 80s metal would be envious of.
The breakdown involves some superb swing-shuffle drumwork and arpeggiating synth which has Tommy dancing about on stage as though he’s in a 40s jazz bar. Flowing through a few musical changes, it ends with a triumphant solo section.
There’s a brief pause while Tommy makes sure nobody has died from the pure fury of the performance, followed by a courteous shout-out to Haken.
To finish, we are treated to a double-bill of “Ants of the Sky” and “White Walls”, both from the album “Colors”. The first song is surprising in its switch between pounding metal and almost medieval folk-style tonality. The latter is a 15-minute tour de force, opening with a searing yet wonderfully melodic riff and flowing through a variety of passages from heavy to gentle, the band still somehow working at 100% of their ferocity despite the end of the gig approaching.
All in all the gig is characterised by an utterly perfect rendition of every song marked by the sheer professionalism of each band member, combined with the furious energy and audience-band connection of a live gig. Add to that the expertly-mixed sound at the venue and there’s simply no better way to experience this band and their music.