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Alaska

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Average Rating
★★★★½
(86 Reviews)

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  • For a lot of bands, being memorable means writing inoffensive, cookie-cutter hit singles with a few irresistible hooks and huge choruses that listeners can hum along with when they hear it playing from a local rock radio station. But North Carolina’s quintet, Between The Buried And Me, spit on that rule book, shred it, and throw its remains out the window, opting instead to be memorable the old-fashioned way — with brilliant songwriting, top-notch musicianship, and a sound all their own.

    BTBAM’s junior release, 2005’s “Alaska” (a second for Victory Records), is the ultimate style/genre blender, mixing together hardcore and metalcore, technical death metal, and grindcore with a heavy mathcore influence, and even a fair amount of progressive metal and free jazz elements. (In other words, imagine Dillinger Escape Plan, Necrophagist, Cephalic Carnage, Meshuggah, Dream Theater, and Neurosis all playing at once, and you’ll get the general idea.) Thus, this record isn’t a snug fit for any one genre, but every influence can be heard equally. It perfectly balances just the right amounts of harmony, dissonance, restrained tempos, off-the-wall lunacy, head-spinning technicality, crazy time signatures, turn-on-a-dime tempo changes, crushing heaviness, and infectious melody, making it one of the most colorful, complex, intricate, engrossing, well-balanced, and textured heavy music releases of recent memory.

    The album begins with one of its most meticulous and symphonic numbers, “All Bodies.” It starts with a forceful, deeply grooving rhythm made up of muscular, churning riffs, a gluey bass line, and pounding drums. The song gets noticeably more melodic as it progresses, first with a handful of nicely wailing guitar solos (sprinkled into the back of the mix), then with an extremely surprising (and brief) spot of soulful, operatic vocals and spiraling arpeggio guitars. Then, the title track opens with a winding, keyboard-sounding guitar solo before segueing into driving, jackhammer blast beats, and a fiery, crunching lead that plows over everything in sight. The grindcore influence is especially apparent on the brutal third track, “Croakies and Boatshoes,” which is highlighted by blasting drums and harsh, grindcore-worthy pig-squeal vocals.

    The mostly instrumental “Selkies: The Endless Obsession,” is the record’s crown jewel, and is worth the price of admission alone (heck, I’d even say it’s almost worth dying for!) It’s a VERY docile, ethereal, and mindblowing piece which utilizes fantastic harmonies and melodies throughout. The mazy synthesizers, light-as-a-feather acoustic strums, humming bass line, slow drum beat, and angelic singing at the beginning of the song eventually fade out, and two ultra-melodic and pristine solos become the song’s main highlight. The first solo is entrancing, dreamy, jazzy, and all-around amazing, and the second is a spectacular, jaw-dropping, five-string sweep solo that lasts for about a minute and evokes the glory days of Megadeth or Yngwie Malmsteen. These two guitar solos have got to be among the best ever recorded by any band, bar none!

    Following “Selkies,” “Breathe In, Breathe Out” is a pretty acoustic interlude that continues in the same heavenly melodic vein as that wonderful epic, but the next two bludgeoning tracks clearly show Between The Buried And Me’s grindcore influence coming into play. The immensely b-b-b-brutal “Roboturner,” scares the listener half to death (its manic guitar shredding, bouncy, walloping drums, and jarring, skin-crawling screams really pin your ears back); and the wild, off-the-map “Backwards Marathon,” is bursting with careening leads and positively maniacal vocals.

    Then, things briefly slow back down again for some more b-e-a-utiful ambience (“Medicine Wheel”), but tracks nine and ten, “The Primer” and “Autodidact,” furiously erupt into scorching, Swedish death metal-tinged onslaughts. Finally, the set closes with another acoustic ditty, “Laser Speed,” but this time a rhythmic, Brazilian-sounding drum beat also comes into the mix.

    Although several of these songs have a nice, propulsive groove, “Alaska” features too many weird tempos and breakneck rhythm shifts for the album (as a whole) to lock onto a catchy, cohesive groove. Thus, be warned that “Alaska” isn’t a typical extreme music album, so it will take several attentive listens to get used to, absorb, and appreciate fully. But don’t worry, your patience will surely pay off — “Alaska” is an exhilarating, captivating, and all-around excellent album with a wealth of contagious material that will stick with you for days. Also, this album proves Between The Buried And Me are definitely one of the best, smartest, and most innovative, realized, accomplished, interesting, and unique metal bands of this decade.

    Posted on February 13, 2010