Between the Buried and Me
The Anatomy Of
o call this set of covers diverse would be an understatement: Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Soundgarden, Queen, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Smashing Pumpkins, Earth Crisis, Sepultura, Blind Melon, Faith No More, Depeche Mode, Pantera, and Counting Crows. Few bands have the scope and chops (not to mention balls) to pull The Anatomy Of off, but if any band can, it's Between the Buried and Me. This North Carolina quintet has made a career out of stirring prog, emo, jazz, electronics, and what-have-you into the metal pot. Usually this type of fusion results in long-haired dudes earnestly discussing bass drum techniques in online forums. But several things keep BTBAM centered: Blake Richardson's flawless drumming, Tommy Rogers' Death Cab-to-death metal vocals, and guitarists with a penchant for melodic arpeggios. On The Anatomy Of, Between the Buried and Me pays tribute to its influences; if you think the band is just name-dropping, last year's Alaska proves otherwise.
What jumps out immediately is the size of these tunes. These are anthems—"Kickstart My Heart," "Us and Them, ""Geek U.S.A.," "Cemetery Gates." Covering anthems is dangerous in that deviation risks heresy, but faithfulness risks boredom. For the most part, Between the Buried and Me plays it safe, not disturbing the classic arrangements (the major exception is a wild, arpeggio-fueled polka dropped into the middle of Metallica's "Blackened"). But it's fascinating to hear the band morph from metallers to grunge rockers to hippie troubadours with ease. The fidelity of these reproductions is eerily spot-on, from the guitar tones to the drum fills to the vocal harmonies.
These covers generally fall into two types: rocking and mellow. The rocking covers actually aren't that interesting. Sepultura's "Territory," Smashing Pumpkins' "Geek U.S.A.," and Pantera's "Cemetery Gates" are pretty much straight reads. While Rogers has amazing range, he sounds overmatched on Soundgarden's "The Day I Tried to Live" and Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart." On the former, the reason is obvious: Chris Cornell is a god (Audioslave excepted). On the latter, Rogers doesn't have enough gravitas, believe it or not. "Gravitas" and "Mötley Crüe" normally don't go together, but behind the whammy bar licks of "Kickstart My Heart" lies a band looking back on its career: "When we started this band / All we needed, needed was a laugh / Years gone by, I'd say we've kicked some ass" (that's Mötley Crüe's version of introspection, anyway). Mötley Crüe was a bunch of degenerates from the Sunset Strip; BTBAM looks like a high school baseball team. Hearing young Rogers sing these words is a bit laughable.
What's not laughable, though, is how he tackles the softer songs. His all-time favorite band is Queen, and his vocals on the wacky "Bicycle Race" would do Freddie Mercury proud. King Crimson's "Three of a Perfect Pair" is indeed perfect, nailing the vocal harmonies (although is that Auto-Tune I'm hearing?) and coruscating clean guitars. Pink Floyd's "Us and Them," complete with atmospheric organ and sax, is spine-chilling. Rogers' clean voice is soft, so he's more successful when he's channeling, say, Shannon Hoon than Billy Corgan. The best moments here are unplugged. Blind Melon's "Change" is a Bonnaroo-approved, Birckenstock'd jam, while Counting Crows "Colorblind" closes the album simply and beautifully. While these choices might confound the band's camo short-wearing fans, Between the Buried and Me is essentially offering a mixtape: "Check out where we came from." For a generation of music listeners that might not remember Kurt Cobain, this is a vital service.