In 2011 Between the Buried and Me released the EP Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, the first part of a conceptual work which is now completed by Parallax II: Future Sequence. At a running time of just over 30 minutes Hypersleep Dialogues is a minute longer than Slayer‘s Reign in Blood which would seem to blur the distinction between EP and album until you compare it to the massive 72+ minute space opera of Future Sequence. While both parts of Parallax share conceptual continuity and a common style there is no doubt that this is the more successful sibling and arguably BTBAM’s masterpiece to date.
I won’t pretend to understand what’s going on with the story. It’s all very sci-fi and begs questions about the nature of the self, using quantum realities or something. I’ll get back to you when I understand it, in a year or two. It’s pretty much Schrödinger’s Cat Lies Down On Broadway. The important thing is the music and they seem to have condensed three hours’ worth of the stuff onto one CD.
Goodbye to Everything is a short intro with strummed clean guitar which leads into the prog metal fanfare of Astral Body. The atmospheric scene-setter followed by balls-out overture is a tried-and-trusted rock opera device; see Quadrophenia, The Wall or Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory. We’re very much in prog/prog metal territory but never before has it been so densely packed, so unpredictable and yet so cohesive. BTBAM graft on a dizzying array of styles to the main prog trunk, taking in death metal, surf music, Vaudeville pastiche and any number of homages to the compositions of Frank Zappa.
Extremophile Elite features Eastern microtonal sitar-like melodies, sounding like Home from the aforementioned Dream Theater album. The Black Box, with its piano backing and clean harmonised vocals, comes across as a sci-fi Anathema before a swell of synthetic strings and palm-muted arpeggios swirl and drag us headlong into the maelstrom of Telos. The first of three stand-out tracks, Telos is part technical death metal, part jazz fusion workout, part prog metal of the Porcupine Tree variety.
Telos is, as I’m sure you know *checks Wikipedia*, the Aristotelian concept of the ultimate destination of a goal-driven process; and the fact that the many facets of this track coalesce to form a cohesive logical whole reflects the concept rather neatly. Coming at approximately the mid-point of the album, Telos feels like the pivot that holds the album together. Its position marks the point where, rather than flagging under the weight of dense material so far, the listener’s attention is boosted and, like a projectile in gravitational slingshot, propelled onward for a stellar closing act.
Melting City, the second of the stand-out tracks, keeps up the mind-bending technicality but amongst the finely crafted unison playing a hook emerges, an actual honest-to-goodness earworm: “Faceless in a sea of space/My propulsion from their pain”. For all the instrumental brilliance on show throughout Parallax II BTBAM never lose sight of the important centripetal force of melody. It is what holds the chaos in check and stops the listener’s mind from waving a white flag and ejecting itself via the air lock.
It’s a good thing too because after almost an hour of being pummelled into near-submission you’re going to want all your faculties for the climactic 15 minute epic Silent Flight Parliament. Clean and growled vocals merge and conflict to convey the duality of the protagonist’s identity. I think. Each section of this monumental track urges the next incessantly forward, culminating in another unlikely earworm, sing along now: “Jet propulsion disengage/Dancing towards our future”. Not the catchiest of phrases I’ll admit but it’ll burn itself into your brain like a coronal eclipse on an idiot’s retina.
The album is rounded off with a 2 minute reprise of Goodbye to Everything. After a 72 minute trip into outer and inner space, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’d be a fair bit of listener fatigue. Not a bit of it. The interest level is kept high throughout such that Parallax II:Future Sequence seems to be about half as long as it actually is. After over a dozen plays I’ve still not come to grips with the music or the story. This is an album which will continue to grow with subsequent listens. One of the best prog metal releases of the year and an instant classic of the genre.