It’s not typical for a band to write a sequel to a highly regarded album years after the original. It has been done of course, but the result is often underwhelming, to say the least (I’m looking at you ‘Operation: Mindcrime II’). I was therefore a bit surprised, and more than a little leery to learn that prog metal titans Between The Buried and Me were releasing ‘Colors II’, a sequel to their much loved (and arguable masterwork) ‘Colors’ released back in 2007. A non-direct story sequel is an awkward thing, it must have enough in common with the first work to rightfully be considered a sequel, but also stand on its own merits while being fresh, and bringing something new to the proceedings. And the band has managed to do just that.
Thematically it is meant to be a continuation of the first album, analyzing humanity, and the world in general, and includes little nuggets of lyrics, and melodic cues to the first. I’m going to try and not give too many of those away, as part of the fun of listening through it is finding them. The first is quite obvious, and expected though, in the opening number “Monochrome.” The music and vocal delivery of Tommy Rogers (lead vocals, keys) are a clear nod to the opening track “Foam Born” from the previous album. And like that song after a minute or so of quiet contemplation, the full band comes roaring in, and the growls begin in earnest. As on most of their albums, the songs bleed into each other, creating the impression of one long song, and statement, and in this instance, the opening track moves directly into “The Double Helix of Extinction,” a song that moves in typical BtBAM ways, barrages of technical brutality, with waves of melody, and beauty.
In many ways, the original ‘Colors’ wrote the blueprint for almost everything the band has done since. This is not unusual as any band with longevity, and success has likely found it because they established their own sound, and knew what to do with it. I have at times over the years felt that they were in part making ‘Colors’ over and over, with little being either fresh or invigorating. Which is why I am so pleased with how this album came out, maybe it was the forced break that Covid imposed on them, but I really feel that this is the freshest the band has sounded for quite some time (although ‘Coma Ecliptic’ was definitely a break in this pattern, and one that renewed my hope for them).
The band is of course in incredible form, the duo guitar attack, and intricate interweaving by Paul Waggoner, and Dustie Waring is as tight as ever, and the deep, grounding rhythm section of bassist Dan Briggs, and drummer Blake Richardson are legendary. And Tommy’s intelligent key work is vital to their sound. But his vocals are what really shines on this album, in particular his cleans. The mellow middle section of “Revolution In Limbo” is some of my favorite vocal work from any of their album, his confidence is palatable, and the seeming effortlessness with which he switches between his clean, and growled vocals is all the more impressive given how long he’s been doing it for, as they haven’t gotten any weaker over the years, as is often the tragic case.
There are some guests that need to be mentioned as well, the punk-infused “Fix The Error” has a trio of drumming guest soloists in the form of Mike Portnoy, Navene Koperweis, and Ken Schalk. I am most familiar with the work of Portnoy, but everything about this track works wonderfully, and the addition of a cowbell in the second solo is a delightful touch.
With an 80 minute runtime, there is a lot to unfold here. It is therefore impossible to hit on everything worth mentioning and keep a review at a reasonable length. But rest assured, that the more listens one gives this album, the more things are revealed, and the more enjoyable it becomes. Some more songs do deserve mention though that stand out to me, “The Future Is Behind Us” is one of the more musically quirky, and fun tracks, adding a healthy dose of electronic music and melodicism to the heavy complexity of the guitar, and metal around it. Tommy plays with his voice a lot within it as well, at times half speaking his lyrics, before bouncing back to high cleans, and some of the more clearly enunciated screams on the album.
The album closes out with the longest song the 15 minutes “Human Is Hell (Another One With Love)” which is introduced by the short ambient instrumental “Sfumato.” The beginning is musically a clear followup to “White Walls” the closing piece from the first album, and like that song, this piece is a full roller coaster rush of ups, downs, and breathtaking speeds. Lyrical comparisons will be much easier with an album booklet, but they share similar themes of self-exploration, what it means to be human, and how one sees themselves in the grand scheme of the universe. The band makes good use of every minute of the run time, striking the balance between strong, catchy melodies (often jazzy) of delicate beauty, and highly complex brutality. It’s an exceptionally well-written, and crafted piece of music, and serves as a powerful, and emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Between The Buried and Me have once again thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the more extreme end of the progressive metal community, challenging other bands to never rest on their past, and keep looking forward. With ‘Colors II’ that have proven that even ten full-length albums into their career, they are still willing to push themselves and their listeners, and have crafted one of the most compelling, and complete albums of their career. I must admit that I thought their best days were past, but this album gives me a lot of hope for the future. Recommended.