[This post is part of the College: Alphabetized by Album series]
Death metal is not for everyone.
I’ve been into “music with screaming,” – that kind of music that replaces a melodic vocal line with screams of various pitches – for over a decade now. Part of this is because I like the heaviness of hardcore and metal and can tolerate the lack of soothing vocals. The other part of this is that I am a musician and I appreciate the technicality most hardcore and metal musicians brings to the table that is usually lacking in pop music.
Side note: It finally dawned on me why I often like music a lot of the music that I like. As a musician, I can sense “hooks” present in vocal lines, drum beats, guitar riffs, bass lines, and piano parts. Most people only readily hear either of the first two. That’s why pop music almost always relies on a vocal hook in the chorus for its catchiness and repeat listens. As a guitarist though, a sick detuned riff can be just as catchy to me as some pop melody gem. This applies to the other instruments as well, and is why generally speaking, vocals in music don’t matter that much to me. I do though love a catchy melody, I just want some legit music behind it. I can deal with legit music with cookie monster vocals, but I will not tolerate soul stirring melodies over instruments that do not pique my interest or conduct themselves in timbres that I like.
This is why I do not like country music.
But, back to Between the Buried and Me, who is not just a death metal band, but is an adult contemporary progressive death metal band (their words), to locate then on the genre map for you. They are also one of the most technically proficient bands out there. This is usually underscored if you have the chance to see them play live as the guitarists and the bassist just stand there, unable to frolic and mosh on the stage due to the complexity of what they are playing. I had the privilege to see them live while I was in Dallas and they started their set by playing a 40 minute song (their album Colors is a single 65 minute opus split over 8 tracks) before moving onto a collection of shorter (as in 6-8 min) songs, mostly off of the Alaska album.
This particular album, I picked up through my Rhapsody music service shortly after it came out in the Fall of 2005 (The hipster in me wants you to know that when you geek out about Spotify, you should know that I’ve had a similar service through Rhapsody for almost 6 years now). This was an interesting time in my life, as I had decided to take a semester off from school and just work and figure some things out. I ended up landing a job at Starbucks, and because of my open availability was soon working my share of opening shifts. At the particular store in the Turkey Creek shopping center in Knoxville, opening meant being there at 530am. This was not new to me as I often opened when I worked at Lowes Home Improvement (circa Fall 2002-Summer 2003). Lowes however involved a lot of standing around before 8am, which was definitely not the case at Starbucks.
My specific memories of Alaska though are tied to a melodic section in the track Backwards Marathon. The beauty of Between the Buried and Me is that when they do put their mind to crafting a nice melodic section, they excelling with flying colors. If you don’t particularly like screaming, but enjoy good progressive music, you may still warm up to Between the Buried and Me because they have so many passages in their music that are sans vocals. They also occasionally mix in some clean vocals, and one such place in Backwards Marathon had lodged itself in my mind like an ear worm. I can recall a distinct memory of having this play in my head while working at Starbucks one morning in the dark. Snippets of visuals to accompany the soundtrack include looking at my drive thru register, making someone’s Venti Mocha Frappucino, and staring out into the pre-awake Knoxville suburbia.
My other memories from this album involve sitting up in my attic/recording studio/study space and getting school work done once I resumed college in the winter of 2006. This may seem odd, but it’s a practice I used to excel in school and am even using it right now (jamming The Devil Wears Prada while I’m writing this). Most people can’t concentrate while listening to “screaming music,” but when I need to be in beast mode to study or read, it only makes sense to use death metal as the soundtrack. Rarely did I write a paper in seminary without some metal or hardcore band rocking out and screaming in my ear.
Maybe that’s why I only got a 3.82 instead of a 4.00, but I guess we’ll never know. I do know this though, Alaska is a sick album. Most of the lyrics do not make sense and for the most part are not understandable anyway on many tracks. But talk about some elegant and brutal jams. You would be hard pressed to think of a more accurate title than Alaska for an album that is hauntingly beautiful, chilling, and in places overwhelmingly brutal.
One only wonders what Sarah Palin might make of such music.