To say all eyes were on Between the Buried and Me after 2007’s masterpiece Colors would be an understatement. At that point, the band had upped their game with every album, redefining their sound and pushing their limits each time. It was easy to expect them to follow that trend and blow us away yet again, and the hype was on when The Great Misdirect was finally announced. It’s pretty easy to see where I’m heading with this set up – The Great Misdirect was not, in fact, another game-changer from the band, leaving Colors behind in its wake and once again redefining them. What it was, rather, was a good album, just not a great one.
Why was that? All of the things that this band does best – crushing, technical guitar playing with an ear for melody, diverse and varied song structure, songs of epic length – they’re all there. Colors had marked a shift, where Between the Buried and Me finally grew out of their -core influenced sound and into their lofty sonic ambitions, finding their niche in the process. And once they found that niche, they seemed to no longer feel the need to prove and push themselves, evidenced by the fact that after another album and EP since The Great Misdirect, they haven’t had another drastic stylistic change.
But all that is getting a bit ahead of ourselves. If The Great Misdirect can be summed up with any one word, it would be ‘refined’. What it does best is taking the long-form, progressive elements of Colors, and further work them into the band’s sound. At times Colors sounded a little disjointed; the growing pains of a band experimenting with a new style. The Great Misdirect still suffers from that at times (the horse-neigh fueled country rock breakdown of ‘Disease, Injury, Madness’ being the most glaring example), but with a similar album already under their belts, the result much more natural and smoother sounding than its predecessor. ‘Obfuscation’ shifts seemlessly back and forth between heavy riffs that push and pull, to sections that sound like something off of a Pink Floyd record, making it an exciting journey of a track that rivals anything on Colors. ‘Fossil Genera – A Feed From Cloud Mountain’ manages to take a quirky bar-room piano melody and turn it into a compelling intro, setting the song up for a perfect kick in the ass when the rest of the band finally joins in. ‘Mirrors’ is a dose of calm before the storm, floating around in an ocean of jazzy, clean guitar and marking itself as one of the only Between the Buried and Me songs to be entirely sung.
The Great Misdirect’s greatest flaw isn’t actually a flaw. It’s the lack thereof – it’s too perfect and predictable, which, coming from one of the most-forward thinking metal bands of our time, simply isn’t acceptable. We had been shown hints of the band’s progressive songwriting as early on as The Silent Circus, and Alaska was the bridge between that album and Colors. While still remaining exceptional at what they do, The Great Misdirect was the first sign of things starting to get stale. ‘Swim to the Moon’ tries to replicate the epic feel of ‘White Walls’, but falls into the trap of simply stacking riff after riff on top of each other, eventually descending into Dream Theater-esque soloing that only serves to pad the length of the song. And speaking of length, besides ‘Mirrors’ and ‘Desert of Song’, the band no longer dips below the nine minute mark, ‘Swim to the Moon’ itself clocking it at nearly eighteen minutes. Every song is now a marathon of ideas, riffs, and leads, and after a few listens that becomes pretty damn fatiguing. It lends the music a feeling of amnesia, in which it’s hard to recall any particular part without repeated listens. And suddenly, those ‘quirky’ sections start to feel forced in to give the songs their memorability.
Whew. That’s a lot of negativity. The truth is, for all the problems with The Great Misdirect, there’s just as many moments that have the ability to blow you away. ‘Disease, Injury, Madness’ stands out as one of the finest songs in their catalog, reaching a new level of heaviness and intensity while still being a dynamic and interesting piece of music. ‘Fossil Genera’, as mentioned before, is quirky and at times totally out of character for a metal band, and that’s what makes it a fascinating listen. ‘Obfuscation’ manages to sound straight forward despite it’s many changes, anchored by a strong chorus and tight arrangement, truly a song that needs all of its nine minutes. I might have expected too much from them to pull another stylistic shake-up out of their hats, and failed to see that they had created another great slab of unique progressive metal. But I also still can’t help but feel a little disappointed by that as well, seeing as they had managed to do it four other times before. Either way, The Great Misdirect still adds to their discography in a necessary way, serving as evidence of a band that had finally settled into a groove and could successfully wring out the exact kind of music they wanted, while giving the fans new songs to fawn over and analyze. They’re still at it now: their newest album, The Parallax II: Future Sequence suffers from a lot of the same problems The Great Misdirect does, but it also has it’s share of great Between the Buried and Me songs. And so it goes – maybe they’re not as exciting as they once were, but they’re still capable of creating great metal.
Key Tracks: Obfuscation, Disease, Injury, Madness, Fossil Genera – A Feed from Cloud Mountain