I owe my love for extreme metal to Between the Buried and Me’s Colors. And given that music critique was one of the key factors that motivated me to pursue journalism professionally, I also owe a significant portion of my career to the North Carolina quintet’s seminal 2007 record. It’s no understatement to say that if it weren’t for Colors, I’d have no idea where I’d be in life right now, I’m positive that I wouldn’t be writing anything for Metal Injection, at the very least.
If I could allow myself a cliché: I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since this record came out and gosh, I sure do feel old! Although Between the Buried and Me has downplayed most of their Colors material and abandoned nearly all of the their older, non-“Selkies: The Endless Obsession” tunes on their last few tours, the band is paying homage to their breakthrough album on a mostly sold-out 10-year anniversary concert run happening right now.
But is all the hype warranted? Has Colors stood the test of time? Is it still the stone-cold classic that I thought it was way back in high school?
Well…Almost, yes! Ten years later, Colors might not be the timeless, seminal masterpiece that teenage-me championed it as, but damn, it's truly not far off. This is still one of the most wildly ambitious, and sprawlingly monumental, yet gleefully self-aware, metal records I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.
For the uninitiated, Colors is essentially a single hour-long metal gauntlet split into eight pieces. Though each track is distinct and certainly capable of standing alone, Colors is one of those albums that is best absorbed in one uninterrupted listen, at least for first timers. The intricacies here extend ad infinitum and attempting a thorough analysis of the full scope of the record in any sort of remotely reasonable article length would be an exercise in futility.
Perhaps the simplest, yet most accurate, thing that can be said about Colors is that the record constantly defies expectations. This is an album where metalcore chugging, subtly backed by gentle synths, gives way to crooning clean vocals that then transitions into tech death shredding and manic screaming, then into some piano, some otherwise indescribable “La La La-ing” and frontman Tommy Giles’ made-up nonsense spoken word verses. And then there’s some prog metal-esque soloing. In the span of about two minutes.
Got all that?
I just threw around a lot of genre descriptors, if only to give some sense of what kind of diversity is displayed here, but even with all of that said, Colors is one of those albums that truly defies traditional labeling. That said, even at its goofiest and most outlandish, nothing on Colors comes across as a gimmick—the vast majority of the record’s wackier moments are just as enjoyable today, hundreds of listens later—and never take away from the fact that the actual musicianship is absolutely top-notch. Unless you’re Mr. Bungle or Naked City, this kind of auditory mania should be a recipe for unmitigated disaster. But it works here, and does so near-flawlessly.
As for judging individual tracks, “Prequel to the Sequel” still holds up as my favorite song on the record. Although it doesn’t feature as much soaringly crazy soloing as Colors’ other pieces, the first five or so minutes are still a barrage of endlessly thrilling guitar work. After that gives away to a brief polka break—of course, duh—the song climaxes with guest vocalist Adam Fisher’s desperate, agonized screeches. When Rogers’ rejoins the mix with his comparably lower screaming, the two’s performance is more jaw-droppingly epic than even the most ridiculous power metal symphonies.
On a personal note, the abbreviated version of this song on the Rock Band 2 video game was my first exposure to both Between the Buried and Me and “extreme” music in general. And I hated it with a passion. Screamed vocals? Pfft, like that takes talent. But damn it, I was determined to beat the godforsaken thing on expert difficulty, and the stupid thing eventually grew on me. I’d seriously wager that the song’s inclusion on that game’s soundtrack had a significant impact on the band’s sudden spike in popularity.
Anyway, despite all the aforementioned kookiness, “(B) the Decade of Statues” is the strongest example of how the band’s metal music—don’t worry, this is most definitely a metal record at its core—is anything but an afterthought. Even with its comparable simplicity, the song is a still nonstop metallic assault of pounding instrumentation and offers some of the record’s most forbidding screams, the latter of which are perfectly contrasted by some briefly sung vocal lines that are as wonderful as they are fleeting.
I’ve always been of the unpopular opinion that “White Walls” is the weakest track here, which is a shame, because it’s also the longest, clocking in around 14 minutes. Mind you, it’s still a great piece and there’s much to unabashedly love in both the early aggressive vocal lines and lyrics that offer a brief throw back to the band’s earlier records and the incredible soloing in the song’s outro. But the midsection doesn’t quite carry the gravitas you’d expect from such a lengthy album closer.
The same can be said for “Sun of Nothing” and “Ants of the Sky,” Colors’ other 10-plus minute pieces. Their opening and closing minutes are genuinely phenomenal—the segue from one song to the next is sheer adrenaline without peer—but each of their middle sections aren’t quite the nonstop highlight reel that defines much of the record. It seems like a minor issue—and again, these songs are still largely fantastic—but these are particularly long tracks, so the unevenness can add up deceptively fast.
But wow, even if those “low” points constituted the majority of Colors, this would still be a commendable album. We’re about 1,000 words in and I haven’t even had time to mention “Ants of the Sky’s” grinningly stupid sample near its closer, the excellent drumming and beautiful clean guitar work on “Sun of Nothing” or the blistering awesome shredding on “Informal Gluttony.”
So, yeah, Colors still holds up. It’s not the stunningly perfect album that I remember, but it’s so, so close, absolutely deserved the hyperbolic praise it received 10 years ago, and Between the Buried and Me unarguably deserved the success that followed its release.
Since then, Between the Buried and Me has increasingly integrated progressive elements into their music and none of their post-Colors material has really appealed to me. I find their recent records to be victim of overwrought latter day Dream Theater-esque pretentiousness and other unfortunate progressive music stereotypes. I know that’s a minority opinion, but odds are, fans of the band’s latest albums probably love Colors (almost) as much as I do.
And if you’re like me and prefer the band’s metalcore roots and long for the days where Between the Buried and Me concerts featured old hits such as “Moredecai” and “Shevanel Cut a Flip” or deep cuts like “All Bodies” and “More of Myself to Kill,” you probably loved Colors, too.
Either way, we’re all better off because of this album’s release, and so is the metal music scene in general. And if you're a decade late to the party: Welcome aboard.
Between the Buried and Me is currently out on the road playing Colors in full. Get dates here.