After feeling under-whelmed by The Great Misdirect and being not-to-enthused after listening to the Parallax I EP, BTBAM have definitely got my interest again with Parallax II.
I don't nerd out over concept albums like some music fans, and I couldn't begin to tell you what the theme of the album is despite hearing it several times. More obvious to me is the call-backs made to previous musical themes explored on the album, and other details that serve as meaningful audio connections to provide fluidity. The mellow "Goodbye to Everything" bookends the album (not a conceptual prerequisite, but a nice touch), and a brief bit of so-called alien noise on "Autumn", as well as a narrative (by Amos Williams of Tesseract) on "Parallax" serve as effective bridges.
BTBAM gets tons of credit for being "progressive", and with this album, I'm inclined to both agree and disagree. I listen to the band explore all sorts of terrain and tempos in "Lay Your Ghosts To Rest" and "Silent Flight Parliament". However, it still feels like they've done it all before. After their previous disappointments, that fact bothered me. In this case, no so much. Despite the extended running lengths of the songs making up the core of the album, they come across to me as very organic.
In my opinion, BTBAM live and die by not by their instrumental gymnastics (which are never really lacking), but by their melodic content and willingness to fully commit to the style of music they tackle within a particular section the song. Factors such as this provide some of their freshest and most enduring material since Colors.
Some of my favorite moments:
"Astral Body", which begins with a rather catchy Dream Theater-ish instrumental section, with Tommy Rogers joining the proceedings where he blends both clean and growled vocals to good effect. A highly contagious tune with a strong energy!
The song that got me to shell out my hard-earned cash was "Telos". A track like this gives a good summation of what BTBAM are all about. It begins with the hardcore aggression the band was founded on, gradually changing rhythmic motifs before entering the mellow mid-section that truly caught my ear. A looping keyboard passage acts as the background to a bit of a laid-back, spacy jazz/rock fusion, building it's way towards a heavy but harmonic conclusion.
The midsection to "Melting City" includes a brief but delightful cameo of some flute, and contains not one but two very different but equally memorable solos by guitarist Paul Waggoner. Bassist Dan Briggs (one of my favorites in modern metal) provides magnificent support throughout this song.
As a very strong album that exceeded my expectations, I see no harm in giving Parallax II a 4.5 out of 5.