Progressive to the Core: Between the Buried and Me Sees Red

Photo by Ryan Johnson
All photos by Ryan Johnson

At 21:47 March 26, 2016 my Twitter wall read “Well, it’s official, I came for Between The Buried & Me, but I cummed for August Burns Red”. A little phallic and overstated? Sure. Crass? Perhaps a little. However, spending a massive contingent of one’s time in an all male band is, after all, a touch homoerotic, and few will exploit or draw attention to that ridiculousness than those involved daily with the metal genre. With any luck, that message was received with the levity and appreciation with which it was sent.

Between the Buried and Me hit the stage a meagre three minutes past their scheduled slot of 19:45, which in terms of multiple-band shows, especially multiple-metal band performances, is about as precise as they come. Back-timing is never a skill associated with metal. However, in retrospect it would be foolish for one to look at anything in regards to timing with BTBAM and doubt their ability.

And with the first note from the keyboard gently massaged from the blackened out Vogue Theatre stage the crowd knew that the anticipation of BTBAM had fallen to actualization. As was often the case pertaining to the first song in the night with this unit, at least over the duration of the last nine years, was “Foam Born: (A) The Backtrack”. Now, any true fan of the band would not roll over in their buried grave to hear that Tommy Giles Rogers assumed the keyboard prior to his more prominent role of vocalist to kick the night off. Nor would they be surprised to learn that those few moments of sultry piano played though the keyboard to start the BTBAM portion of the evening would be one of the few remaining mild moments in the next hour of the attendees’ collective lives. Just moments into the “Foam Born: (A)” the very large and BTBAM dominant crowd would test the aging (but easily one of Vancouver’s best venues) Vogue Theatre’s structural integrity as the band laid to waste all those who dare oppose. Given that the underwhelming Good Tiger were the sole openers before the progressive metal act hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, fans were figuratively frothing at the mouth to get their Between the Buried and Me fix.

It’s been 11 years since my Between the Buried and Me cherry saw its inevitable “Higgs Boson-esque” popping. Unlike many bands who stick with the recipe responsible for garnering their first record deal and/or subsequent first album, BTBAM has seen what many folks (who are) woven into the “metal scene” would consider a vast departure from the original sound they embodied back when they formed in 2000. Though still very intriguing in 2005 when opening for the eclectic legends the Dillinger Escape Plan at Vancouver’s Red Room, Between the Buried and Me was just initializing the proverbial commencement that would reveal itself to be the sonic anthropomorphized audio caterpillar to sonic butterfly.

Up there with the ranks and musicianship of Cephalic Carnage, Meshuggah, Necrophagist, or Decapitated, Between the Buried and Me has seen far more commercial success than the aforementioned comparable Progressive Death Metal acts. Their very clean and cutting sound at the Vogue Saturday night made for a distinguishable and therefore engaging listen. Seemingly rising above the muddy “wall of sound” roots of death metal is the “Progressive Death Metal” sub-genre that contains all the elements one could find in a classical or jazz composition. This educated and technical approach coupled with modern day digital amplification creates clarity within the “chaos,” which in some cases may serve captivating as opposed to alienating the casual listener. Few have dredged through the trenches to capture that sound like BTBAM, and that spectacle was on display in spades on March 26th.

The visuals of the BTBAM performance evidenced further proof of their uncommon (for progressive death metal) level of success. With a spectacular light show that had the venue possessed, a convertible roof function might have looked like a call to an alien god or gods. The stage set-up, not to be outdone by the precise audio elements of the evening, impressively pulled together a hybrid of elaborate mood-setting intricacy, with a simple and understated humbleness. Having borrowed a concept I personally first experienced with Insert Maynard James Keenan Project here, but now ubiquitous among music and stage performances alike, Tommy Giles Rogers, Paul Waggoner, Dustie Waring, Dan Briggs and Blake Richardson used multiple (4) small screens to both segregate playing positions as well as project video onto. The set-up allowed more space on stage and easier set-up and take-down yet, more importantly, provided the backdrop to wherever and whatever journey the bands decides they want to take you, all this while employing the even more powerful “mind’s eye” to summon the imagination to “fill in the gaps.”

From audio clarity, the uncontrived ability to soar between genres (metal, jazz, classical, and other) including just enough pop to fizz and fuse it all together; to the dynamic light and projection show, Between the Buried and Me showed again live why they are standing at the top of what is an incredibly impressive list of talented bands in not just Progressive Death Metal but the entirety of the metal genre as well.

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Headlining the tour was at first glance a peculiar choice. Far more catering to the “metalcore” and therefore most often younger crowd was the native to Manheim, Pennsylvania quintet known as August Burns Red. This “peculiarity” would have been further pronounced had the Faceless been on the tour as they had originally agreed to be. However, just two days prior to the tour commencing the Faceless’s touring vocalist announced that he was unable to join the band or their progressive death metal brethren BTBAM.

It would be easy to question the seemingly “corporate matchmaking” at play with the selections to tour together. However, the decision to go with a younger crowd draw/yield in ABR could, in large part, be due to Between the Buried and Me’s origins as a metalcore project (Prayer For Cleansing).

As the opening line of this article suggests, August Burns Red pleasantly surprised me. From top to tail they exuded an infectious energy and enthusiasm. Their sound was different from BTBAM, but equally crisp, bouncing off of the Vogue Theatre’s walls. The levity that the band often brought throughout the set was both charming and distinctive. In a genre historically accused of exaggeration or embellishment in its execution in poses and posturing, ABR brought that silliness to a completely different level striking ridiculous and fun poses at almost every opportunity. These cats went so far as to have “pose benches” in the place of where monitors are typically positioned in a conventional stage set-up. Benches that the entire band failed to shy away from, at one calculated point early in the show (so that the line of photographers covering the event could no doubt document it) having all of the members of the band, minus Matt Grenier the drummer, hit the three benches collectively and strike their no-doubt choreographed best cheesy poses in unison. This act was repeated albeit in a slightly subdued variety (comparatively) throughout the evening.

Further levity was provided consistently by Jake Luhrs, the band’s front-man, with both his between-song banter and lighthearted and oft-silly dance moves. One should not, however, think that August Burns Red was all fun and games. They proved that metalcore can compete on a ferocity level with any other genre in the game. Smooth, almost seamless transitions proved why they were not just on the bill with BTBAM but headlining too. The aforementioned Matt Grenier would have been the “musician of the night” with his frenetic pace and play had the crowd not just witnessed a drum clinic administered by Blake Richardson (BTBAM) at the helm behind the skins just moments prior.

Sadly, especially for a Saturday night, and even more startling for an early show, the crowd progressively thinned out the longer ABR was on stage. Their set was a reasonable length. The music and engaging sound, as well as joyous spirit whilst proclaiming their adoration for Canada, was not enough to tourniquet the trickle of people exiting the venue as show neared its conclusion.

Despite showing their range with what I can best describe as a country/metal interlude, and then a couple of tracks later a Neil Peart-inspired elongated drum solo, ABR saw their numbers (or at least the attention spans of the crowd) diminish. That said, there was certainly a large contingent of concert-goers that stuck around, enjoyed, and were outwardly elated at the band’s terrific and opinion-of-metlacore-altering set that night.

In the end, perhaps the present day giants of their respective metal sub-genres still have some work to do in convincing the oft elitist metal fan to come around to complete “metal harmony.” However, those wise enough to give the tour the “old college try” should see no shortage of talent and dedication on stage to justify the elaborate light show that showed no signs of spared expense. Add a dash of tomfoolery to go with that ABR charred ballyhoo and early show or not, you’ve got yourself an evening.

View more photos of August Burns Red here.