Between the Buried and Me's 'Colors II' Is a Love Letter to Their Crowning Achievement

BY Max HeilmanPublished Aug 18, 2021

It's not braggadocious for Between the Buried and Me to acknowledge the significance of their 2007 album, Colors. How can they not? It's a defining moment for this North Carolina band, and prog metal in general. BTBAM realized their ambitions with flying colors, and rode the momentum to other career highs over the next 14 years. Three years after the Automata duology, BTBAM have now tasked themselves with writing a direct follow-up to Colors — an unenviable position, surely, but Colors II succeeds as a love letter to a pivotal juncture in BTBAM's career.

Colors II owns up to its status as the sequel to Colors in the BTBAM cinematic universe. To that effect, "Monochrome" and "The Double Helix of Extinction" function much like the original's "Foam Born" and "Decade of Statues." It's almost too similar — an attempt to freshen up their 2007 steez, guiding a piano ballad to technical death metal via a dazzling crescendo. It turns out to be a genius bait-and-switch for seasoned listeners, as the first breakdown in "Helix" subverts jackhammer eighth notes with a nasty swing groove.

BTBAM's lineup has remained constant, and so has their drive to create dynamic, destructive music. It's clear that every member enjoyed replenishing their creative juices. "Revolution in Limbo" finds the quintet pushing each other to the limit. Tommy Rogers' singing remains as poignant as his growls, as do Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring's acoustic meditations, violent shred-fests and invigorating leads. Drummer Blake Richardson even contributes harsh vocals during the breakdown — like he doesn't have enough work cut out for him on tracks like "Fix the Error."

In the middle of a three-way drum battle between Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater), Navene Koperweis (Animals as Leaders) and Ken Schalk (Candiria), Richardson's performance still stands out. His boundless energy drives BTBAM from Motörhead and Deep Purple stylings to… DragonForce!? Power metal is a surprise, but a welcome one. The production gives heft to BTBAM's heaviness without drowning out their intricacies (even Colors struggled to pull this off). This works wonders for the sprawling "Never Seen / Future Shock," as it juggles battle-hardened brutality, jaw-dropping switch-ups and arena-ready melodies.

Colors II has no trouble beefing up its tech-death quotient while leaving room for campy electronic drums and Mr. Bungle-style weirdness to breathe. "The Future Is Behind Us" can punctuate the complexities of math-rock with disco orchestra hits while ending with an absolutely devastating breakdown. "Bad Habits'' similarly indulges all elements of extreme prog-metal, effortlessly transitioning from blast beats to triumphant choruses to duels between organs and acoustic guitars.

Still, 79 minutes is a long time to maintain focus. "Turbulent" builds an expansive, propulsive soundscape over a hypnotic dance-pop loop, but the rising action winds up more predictable than thrilling. And for all its shimmering synths and wailing guitars, "Sfumato" feels more like an unnecessary pitstop before "Human as Hell." The hypnotic, pulsating crescendo of "Stare into the Abyss" might drag on, but that doesn't stop "Prehistory" from offering BTBAM's inexorable rhythmic cohesion. It's jazz/metal fusion in the truest sense, topped off by a country western boogie and a mind-blowing bass solo from Dan Briggs.

"Human as Hell" mirrors Colors closer "White Walls" — the new track begins sounding like a remix of its predecessor, kicking off 15 minutes of BTBAM firing on all cylinders. All of the elements of a climactic closer appear, including the catchiest melodies and the heaviest breakdown. The problem here is the flow of ideas rather than any issue with BTBAM's chops, as the track checks off the 'epic' box instead of providing a truly cathartic finish to a massive journey.

Then again, a sequel rarely pulls an Empire Strikes Back. Colors II can still be plenty respectable without reaching or surpassing Colors. It's certainly BTBAM's heaviest in a while, paying tribute to the BTBAM's watershed record without copy-pasting. It might fall short of wall-to-wall iconic status, but they already achieved that. They've earned the right to have fun making music together for those who've stuck around.

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