In 2005, Between the Buried and Me were a blip on the radar for underground metalheads, too unpredictable for casual metalcore fans and too core for prog heads. Plagued by eight lineup changes in just two years and issues with their record label, BTBAM could have easily folded, but once frontman Tommy Rogers and guitarist Paul Waggoner met guitarist Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson, Between the Buried and Me attained a chemistry that would propel them forward as one of the 21st century’s most important acts.
The new BTBAM lineup showed immense potential on 2005’s Alaska, achieving new compositional heights with cuts like “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” and “All Bodies.” Though distinctly more polished, Alaska wasn’t much of a stylistic jump from 2003’s The Silent Circus. However, by 2007, rumors began to spread about a ridiculous “rock opera” experiment from the newly-minted five-piece band, threatening to catastrophically challenge everything fans knew about BTBAM.
Instead of releasing singles to promote the upcoming record, Between the Buried and Me issued short color-branded teasers featuring clips from classic movies. A total of eight videos would appear (one per song), each disappearing completely within 24 hours. On Sept. 18, 2007, however, fans finally got to plunge down the Colors wormhole as Tommy Rogers’ piano lured them into a lush eruption of sonic jubilance.
About seven minutes into the album, Colors‘ first “What the f—k?” moments began appearing towards the end of “(B) The Decade of Statues” before plunging into full-on Indiana Jones territory on “Informal Gluttony.” Colors was going to be a trip… and a dazzling one, at that.
“We were writing a musically conceptual, no rules, nothing-left-on-the-table record,” Dan Briggs recalls with Metal Injection. “We weren’t only going to write a record, we were going to live in it; eat, sleep and breathe it. We were going to push ourselves and no one was going to hear from us until we’d brought the album full circle and delivered it as a complete piece.”
How stupid is too stupid? Where does that line exist and how does a band continuously dance millimeters before it, taunting the consequences of crossing while truly not giving a damn? Musicians like Frank Zappa, System of a Down, Primus and BTBAM’s biggest Colors influence, Pink Floyd, had attained legendary status by tossing out the fear of not being taken seriously. Creating their own Dark Side of the Moon was somewhat of a shared goal, while the young BTBAM lineup traded their individual influences, from Emperor to Oingo Boingo, during practice.
Having prepped listeners with some weirdness during the introductory songs to Colors, “Sun of Nothing” is where any other band would have fallen off the rails; three minutes into the song, it suddenly turns into the something that sounds like a soundtrack for a bootleg Russian Disneyland ride, transitioning into a crushing breakdown, and then into a gorgeous neoclassical guitar orgy… and it worked!
But even “Sun of Nothing” is nothing compared to “Ants of the Sky.” The 13-minute track weaves in and out of demented carnival metal, psychedelic solos, smooth jazz guitar, space rock and a goddamn country hoedown… not to mention the most tear-jerkingly beautiful solo of Paul Waggoner’s career:
Between the Buried and Me, “Ants of the Sky” (Live)
Continuing Colors as a single 63-minute piece, “Ants” seamlessly blends into “Prequel to the Sequel” with that giant Star Fox riff; a transition smoother than a Morgan Freeman movie voiceover. More faux-Russian experimentation follows before a vicious vocal tradeoff between Tommy Rogers and Fear Before’s Adam Fisher drives “Prequel” into hyperdrive. The word “comfort” has never felt so uncomfortable.
Then there’s Briggs’ magnum opus bass piece, “Viridian”: like the work of Pink Floyd, this instrumental solo needs no words to convey boundless emotional depth. The lines are masterfully placed, and if the guitar solo to “Comfortably Numb” was suddenly personified, it would certainly tip its hat to Briggs.
Finally, in what would become BTBAM tradition through future concept albums, the closing track to Colors was reserved for the most intense, progressive and downright epic piece. Widely regarded by fans as BTBAM’s greatest song, “White Walls” is the supernova of Colors’ spectacular lifespan. Like a clairvoyant, Tommy Rogers exclaims, “We will be remembered for this,” for more than 30 seconds before the song makes its move toward the towering “White walls!” breakdown.
Between the Buried and Me, “White Walls”
As far as creative progression, Between the Buried and Me’s journey from Alaska into Colors is akin Mastodon’s from Remission to Leviathan or Dream Theater’s from When Dream and Day Unite to Images and Words. Colors is the moment when Between the Buried and Me discovered who they were as a band, and pieces of that transformation can be readily found in every BTBAM album preceding their 2007 masterwork.
Through countless growing pains, Between the Buried and Me carved themselves a portrait into the hall of prog gods with Colors, an album metalheads continue to hold up as one of the most important heavy works of the century.