Between the Buried and Me, Animals as Leaders, The Contortionist
July 13, 2015
Packing out Warehouse Live on a Monday night is no easy feat. The club is as cavernous as its name suggests, and the sad reality of work the next morning rarely leaves concertgoers feeling like they have enough time to properly cut loose.
Progressive metal fans, though, favor a highly elastic sense of time. Weeknight or not, Houston’s heaviest mathletes put their graphic calculators down last night and headed out to hear some of the most crushing prog-metal acts on the modern circuit. By the time the doors opened, the line to get into the venue was around the block, and the queue for tickets was almost as long. North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me will probably never have a hit single to their name, but drawing a big walkup crowd to a Monday night show in Houston, Texas, certainly shows that they ain’t doing too bad for themselves these days.
They didn’t quite do it alone, of course. It was a pretty stacked package. Indiana’s The Contortionist broke out the first time-signature changes of the night, with hundreds of fans still working their way through the metal detectors. By the time that D.C.’s Animals as Leaders took the stage next, though, Warehouse was starting to feel cramped. This was an act that nobody wanted to miss.
Animals as Leaders is still pegged by some as a bit of an anomaly in metal, given the African-American ethnicity of band leader Tosin Abasi. What really sets the instrumental trio apart, however, is their twin eight-string guitars, out of which poured crushing low-end and dreamy prog-noodling by roughly equal measure. Animals as Leaders have studied their Meshuggah and their “YYZ” faithfully, and they busted out some truly wicked polyrhythmic grooves as heads banged and twitched out in the dark.
At one point, Animals as Leaders put down the unholy eight-strings and picked up similarly rangy electric-acoustic guitars, delivering what was certainly the softest and warmest take on djent that I’ve yet heard. As colored beams of light danced over the heads in the crowd, it was hard not to be impressed by the acoustic hammering. Then the band picked up their axes and lit into “The Woven Web,” which sent necks from the stage to the doors into convulsions that looked like the onset of Parkinson’s. Luckily, there was plenty of marijuana in the crowd to ease the symptoms.
Animals as Leaders were a hit, but even they can’t quite touch the ADD-addled, metallic schizophrenia of Between the Buried and Me’s sound. Just days after the release of their latest opus, Coma Ecliptic, BTBAM continued to blend extreme metal elements with virtuosic prog passages and bizarro, Bungle-esque musical flights. Fans were hot for all of it right out of the gate.
BTBAM’s impressive light show couldn’t help but lend the show a Tool-ish air, and many of their tunes bore an unmistakable debt to Rush. But BTBAM have carved out their own sound over the past 15 years, largely by playing heavier than either of those two bands ever dreamed. Soul-flattening blast beats and wet, guttural vocals were given plenty of space between the punishing polyrhythms, leaving most fans with little option but to simply stand and stare at limb-snapping spectacle.
Whipping death metal blasts, however, gave way to electronic pop, and then to pounding, anthemic rock. No style of rock and roll was left untouched, stitched together roughly by odd-time transitions as the strobe lights went berserk.
The band definitely displayed some fearsome chops up there, but I found that the best parts of the show came when they chilled out on the prog stuff just a bit and simply grooved — in any genre. The new tune “Memory Palace” began like another Rush hymn, but by the time the noodling coalesced into a fairly sick 6/8 shuffle, I was half convinced they’d been channeling Steely Dan all along. Shit was tight.
Perhaps more impressively, people were clapping along. Prog metal seems to be reaching another peak in popularity. The last metal show I remember at Warehouse Live with such a large an enthusiastic crowd was for Opeth; BTBAM may have topped that crowd. These are loyal fans who don’t give a damn if it’s Monday. Weeks, days and hours are just a bunch of numbers, and as last night’s performances reaffirmed, numbers can be twisted into some pretty breathtaking contortions.
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Personal Bias: Prog part-timer.
The Crowd: The old drumline from your suburban high school was definitely in the house.
Overheard In the Crowd: “Hey man, could you turn down your brightness?”
Random Notebook Dump: Crowd was so thick that getting to the bar and back became a task worthy of song.