Band: Between the Buried and Me | Album:Colors II | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 2021
From: Raleigh, USA | Label: Sumerian Records
It’s not often I’m this on top of a new release (only three days out!), but BTBAM are one of my favorite bands. They’ve managed to blend death metal and metalcore with the tonal and structural language of progressive rock to forge a distinct niche for themselves.
The decision to do a sequel to their best-known album 14 years after the fact struck many (myself included) as an odd choice, but I did my best to keep an open mind. I don’t pay attention to lyrics, and harsh vocals barely even register as words to me, so if you’d changed the title to something else, I doubt I’d know this was a sequel. It is undoubtedly a BTBAM album, but there’s not much inherently Colors-y about it.
I’m also glad that this album was released whole, unlike the weird, two-part release of Automata. Automata works better as one unified piece, and it’s a full 10 minutes shorter than Colors II. I’ve read some speculation that that may have been due to interference from Sumerian Records. If true, I’m glad they held back from issuing Colors 1.5 and Colors 2. (And side note–why does Sumerian Records have the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza as their logo? Couldn’t they have used a ziggurat?)
This band can, at times, fall into a bit of a rut. There are a couple examples on this album of songs that sound like they were spit out by a BTBAM song generator. They’re not bad, but there’s nothing distinct about them. It’s like a more enjoyable version of recent Dream Theater in that regard.
Colors II opens on one of the few moments where I thought, “Oh, this is like Colors!” “Monochrome” begins with a quiet piano intro, but it soon becomes something heavier, much like “Foam Born” on its predecessor. An airy synth line and delicate vocals keep the song from getting bogged down. “The Double Helix of Extinction” follows immediately, and it is one of those good-but-indistinct songs I mentioned. Yeah, it’s fine, but it’s just a generic BTBAM cut. There are some neat synth textures and percussion elements, but it’s not enough to really elevate this track.
“Revolution in Limbo” has a more attention-grabbing opening with its rapid, technical runs, but it still has a hard time establishing itself as anything unique within BTBAM’s oeuvre. In the song’s second half, there’s a fun, jazzy section with a vaguely Spanish feel.
“Fix the Error” was the lead single off this album, and I was not particularly taken with it at first. It works much better in the context of the album. It’s gone from an underwhelming single to one of the album’s highlights. I love the weird bass tone deployed here (and elsewhere on the album), and the song is as close to bright and sunny as death metal can get. The main riff channels Motörhead, and the trio of brief guest drum solos in the song’s midsection is really fun. The guitar solo is another place where there were some obvious allusions to Colors, but it feels natural and purposeful.
“Never Seen/Future Sight” complements “Fix the Error” wonderfully, and I’m especially fond of both the bass work and the various keyboard tones. About two minutes in, there’s a really strange bit full of flutes, acoustic guitars, and simple percussion which almost sounds like it could have been the music for some seaside town in a Pokémon game. The song’s ending is fairly quiet and subdued, and it’s a much appreciated bit of breathing room.
Following this is a pair of short tracks: “Stare into the Abyss” and “Prehistory”. The former gives some vague echoes of Dream Theater with its quiet intro building to a big, grandiose moment; and the latter sounds like an (excellent) outtake from Coma Ecliptic crossed with “Bloom”. These two cuts are relatively brief, but they work excellently. “Prehistory”, in particular, is one of my favorite songs on the album with its overall weirdness.
“Bad Habits” opens with some Mike Oldfield-y organ-and-acoustic-guitar lines contrasted against the band’s usual prog metal bombast. This is better than either of the above-mentioned generic BTBAM songs, but it does fall in that general realm. It’s got its moments, but this nearly-nine-minute song could have been trimmed a good bit.
Following this is another high point, “The Future Is Behind Us”. It has a very ‘80s intro with plonking synth patterns, weird, skittering flourishes of clean guitar, and an engagingly off-kilter main riff. This song is full of fun, wonky licks, and there’s even a brief sample of Yello’s “Oh Yeah”. BTBAM’s best moments are when they go all-in on oddness.
The vague ‘80s-ness of the preceding song’s opening is continued on “Turbulent”. The intro is distantly reminiscent of synthwave (a genre I can only handle in very, very small doses), and it serves the composition well. There’s a build to a grand majesty for this song which leans ever-so-lightly into ‘80s cheese. It’s a subtle hint: enough to grab attention but not enough to be distracting or act as a crutch.
“Sfumato” is a short instrumental evocative of The Division Bell and acts as an intro to the closing epic, “Human Is Hell (Another One with Love)”. This opus’s opening once again hints at (but does not lean upon) Colors, and sizzling synthesizers add great contrast. It’s instantly attention-grabbing, and it makes this song feel like an epic conclusion. About six minutes in, there’s a fun surf-rock inclusion which acts as a nice little break. This song features some of the best integrations of keyboards into BTBAM’s music in their whole catalog, and the closing minutes are fittingly dramatic.
Colors II is a long listen, and it has a lot of really strong cuts. By the time you reach the end, you’ve almost forgotten about the underwhelming opening. However, those first 20-ish minutes probably could have been trimmed down a bit, and there are other brief passages throughout which could have done with some editing. BTBAM are best when they lean into weirdness and weakest when they just blast away as vaguely-proggy metalcore. Thankfully, this album has more of the former, but the latter does hamper this record a bit.
My initial assessment of this album was “pretty good,” and after a couple listens, it hasn’t budged. The weak parts are more bland than bad, and there are strong cuts a-plenty. It’s not a perfect record, but it’s definitely worth your time if you’re a fan.