Live Review : Between The Buried And Me @ Academy 2, Manchester on October 9th 2019

This is hardcore prog metal gigging, not for fair-weather fans that once saw Dream Theater at Download and rather liked that 'Pull Me Under' song. Advertised as an “Evening with”, its two sets format and nearly three hours in length makes it a gift to long standing Between The Buried and Me fans and frankly inaccessible to everyone else. Essentially this unashamed celebration of what makes Between the Buried and Me so wonderful and intriguing, is firmly for the initiated (there is not a person in the room that doesn’t know every word and every chord). The downgrading to the much smaller Academy 3 works very much in their favour as it creates a much more intimate and claustrophobic atmosphere. It also means we can watch close-up every dextrous finger movement made by Dustie Waring as he magically weaves up and down his fretboard.

What we get over the two sets is a number of ‘suites’ (clusters of songs) from across their twenty year, ten albums career. Because we jump around the time stream, the development over the years of their highly unique sound becomes really obvious. 'More of Myself to Kill' from their 2002 self-titled debut is more “Blackwater Park” than “Blackwater Park”, however the sequential ‘The Coma Machine' (thirteen years its junior) is utterly peerless. I may have heard it a thousand times before live and on record, but each and every time it is a stunning churning monolith of sugary choruses and monumentally intricate musicianship. It just sounds like nothing else on earth. And that unrivalled musicianship is the whole point of this evening. It is spellbinding to watch the five of them construct layers of intricately engineered sound. They are aural wizards, conjuring before our very eyes and ears, soundscapes that are unworldly and full of fascinating juxtapositions. At the heart of Between the Buried and Me is that tension between harsh and harmonious. Crashing primal riffs collide with beautiful melodic passages, creating a disorientating but utterly fascinating swirl of ever shifting music. The first set ends with 'Mirrors' and 'Obfuscation' from the “The Great MisdirectTommy Giles Rogers Jnr’s harsh vocals buffering against warm enveloping electronic. Then they are off for a short lie down and a herbal tea and it hits me that an hour has disappeared in the blink of eye.

Set two races past even faster. The beauty of formats like this, is that bands can get indulgent and play stuff that would get ignored in a normal set (or even god forbid a support slot). So the second half is made up of two distinct movements, 'The Black Box’, ‘Telos' and 'Bloom' from “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” and, bringing us bang up to date, 'The Proverbial Bellow’, 'Glide' and 'Voice of Tresprass' from last year’s “Automata II”. As on record, the tracks in both sequences merge into one another, creating two continuous piece of music that majestically rise and fall in tempo. The exert from “Parallax II” is a delicacy I have sampled many a time. It is as breath-taking and as awe-inspiring as always but I am already sold on its genius. The fact that the stuff from “Automata II” sounds so quintessentially Between the Buried and Me a mere twelve months after its release knocks me for six. It is utterly extraordinarily. Over three conjoined tracks the band just go, musically, every sodding where. You become dizzy as the different genres and time signatures come flying at you. It is like a sonic rollercoaster and all you can do is hang on for the ride. It is also refreshing to see new stuff welcomed just as warmly as the more established material. The pit grows by the second and starts to consume the whole sticky floor of the Academy 3. 

And there is more, as the band troop on for an encore the fevered fan boys and girls bray for "Selkies: the Endless Obsession. There is a playful snippet of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and then it is straight into probably the band’s most conventionally sounding track. That is not to do 'Selkies' down (I love it), but its warm classic rock-esque guitar solos seem a million miles away from the juttery angular riffs that are their trademark. But almost as if they have read my mind we get our final couplet of the night, namely “Colors” sublime 'Viridian' and 'White Walls’. The former is subtle, minimal and utterly beautiful. The latter is heaving mass of searing precise riffs and spat out growled vocals. The venue becomes the pit, as almost every single punter is assimilated into its sweaty waves. The energy in the room, and the communal connection with this most unorthodox of bands, is indescribable. And then with a cheeky Oasis playout they are gone. If you didn’t get Between the Buried and Me before you embarked on this marathon of a show, then you were highly unlikely to be converted. But for the committed fan, such as myself, this is as close to perfection as you are going to get.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki