Anyone who’s consumed any form of media knows what an uneasy prospect a sequel can be. So often that word has come to be synonymous with diminishing returns, compromised visions, and creative bankruptcy that is only justified by an accountant’s balance sheet. So when Between the Buried and Me announced a sequel to what I consider their best work – and some of the best prog metal in general – I felt a weird mix of emotions. My inner 15 year old was over the moon at the prospect of more Colors, but my present self was full of nerves. After all, so many things could go wrong, right? They could phone it in and copy themselves in that cynical, jaded way so that many bands do when they attempt to “go back to their roots”. Or they could go so far off the map that it doesn’t resemble the original at all, setting needlessly high expectations just to dash them…because after all, their sound has deviated from Colors quite a bit since 2007. With all these questions in mind, I was excited for Colors II in a way I haven’t been excited for an album in a minute, and I couldn’t wait to hear what the guys had come up with.
However, right from the jump, this record clearly has a lot of Colors baked into its DNA. Tracks like “The Double Helix of Extinction” and “Fix the Error” both echo and build upon the frenzied, dissonant heaviness of this record’s predecessor, hitting hard and fast while leaving nothing but devastation in their wake. “Fix the Error” especially captures that rambunctious, everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink approach of Colors as it sprints from gospel-inspired organs, a blistering set of drum solos, and a crazed punk energy that holds this call for rebellion together. And between these tracks we find “Revolution in Limbo”, a 9 minute beast that finds the band veering through soaring choruses, thick slabs of crunchy technical metal, Cannibal Corpse-esque growls from drummer Blake Richardson, and even a Latin-inspired bit of bossa nova to close things out. A song like this sounds absolutely insane on paper – just like much of the original Colors did as it jumped between bluegrass, prog, jazz, metalcore, and more – and by all rights would be a mess if written by any other band. But this track actually highlights one of the strongest qualities of Colors II, which is the long way the band has come as song writers in the intervening 14 years. Because where once their wild genre excursions could come off as jarring and almost random, herethe band has managed to make these knotty twists and turns feel completely logical and necessary for each song, and each “wtf” moment turns from surprise to sheer pleasure in a heartbeat.
And that’s not just a feature of the individual songs on this record, but rather of the album as a whole. There’s a beautiful flow to it that is so smooth you may not even notice just how much things have changed until you’re 7 tracks deep, and starting with “Never Seen / Future Shock” is where we hit the real turning point. This track starts off as another blast of hard hitting prog in line with the more classic-sounding BTBAM tracks before it, but this is also where the record starts to play with the sounds the band has developed in the 14 years since Colors. On the back half of this song, things shift gears into some slow cinematic prog rock, with Tommy’s clean vocals reaching for the skies over a bed of tightly woven clean guitar leads from Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring that ricochet off of each other in jazzy lock step. And for the big finish, the band pays homage to pretty much every ’80s prog record ever by bringing in a blast of reverb drenched drums before kicking off into a dramatic finish full of uplifting guitars and sci-fi movie keyboards. This is the jumping off point as Colors II shifts gears from what we expect into what we don’t, and the record takes on a focus much more its own.
It would’ve been quite easy for the band to sit down and write an honest to god clone of the original, retreading the same stylistic beats and sounds for a quick cash grab. But while the first half of the album does play with some of their classic sounds, the real power of what they’ve made here is how they’ve effortlessly blended so much more into that Colors framework. Because from here on out, the band starts wholeheartedly diving into the classic rock side of progressive music on tracks like “Stare Into the Abyss”, “Bad Habits”, “The Future is Behind Us” and “Turbulent”. Each one of these songs does have a familiar Colors slant to it, whether it be through a bit of harsh vocals to liven things up or just by adding extra oomph to a dramatic moment with angular riffs and crunchy power chords. But for as much Colors as you’ll hear throughout this album, there’s an equal amount of the underrated Coma Ecliptic too. That album found the band ditching a large chunk of their complex metal riffing and labyrinthine song structure in favor of a more streamlined, simplified approach, which meant utilizing much more in the way of clean vocals, negative space, eerie atmosphere, keyboard-driven melodies, and well as their ’70s prog heroes to guide the way. I found that record to be a fantastic bit of experimentation – and a bold move from a band with a history of bold moves – but it also received a fair bit of backlash for deviating so far from the blueprint, too.
But risks like that define this band, and they’re why Colors II makes for such a compelling sequel. By cross-pollinating one of their most beloved records with one of their most controversial, they’ve created an album that both lovingly echoes the best parts of their catalog, while simultaneously daring to bring together all the evolution and experiments that comprise Between the Buried and Me in 2021. This isn’t the sound of a band navel-gazing at their own past and patting themselves on the back, but rather a band that seized the opportunity to build upon that past in a way that they could only do after 14 years of living, writing, and playing together. Because for as much as the band winks and nods at their past through the occasional musical reference and lyrical interstitial on this album, Colors II firmly stands as its own work. If you had never heard the original Colors (or this thing had simply been called anything else), it would still be just as excitingly aggressive and heavy, gorgeously emotional and atmospheric, and adventurously written as it is now. And yeah, when the album was first announced, that 15 year old me really just wanted another helping of Colors, because honestly, why wouldn’t I? But instead, the band took this chance to do something much more important. They’ve created a record that does indeed find joy in acknowledging who you used to be, and how that person you were has shaped the person that you are now. But at the same time, they’ve also highlighted just how important it is to never stop growing, to never stop finding new things that excite and challenge you, and to never rest on your past accomplishments. So while Colors II may not be the exact stylistic successor that some people may have been hoping for, it does absolutely embody the mold-breaking, genre-defying attitude that made Colors such a special record. We were never going to get the same record again, and the truth is…we didn’t need to. I applaud Between the Buried and Me for being brave enough to recognize that, and for crafting such an amazing record this deep into their career.