Metal fans who got their first exposure to Between the Buried and Me via 2009's The Great Misdirect could be forgiven for failing to grasp what exactly all of the sound and fury was supposed to signify. A tepid follow-up to the band's widely acclaimed Colors, The Great Misdirect found the experimental metal act in a holding pattern for the first time. At the time, I wagered that the band was doing themselves a service by tamping down their restless prog sensibilities and trying to consolidate their extant strengths, though my disinterest in the album since then leads me to believe I was mistaken. Between the Buried and Me's true art is brinkmanship; when not promising new paradigms for heavy metal, or at least threatening to demolish old ones, the band's endless technical wizardry just sounds inert and self-involved.
The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues doesn't quite return Between the Buried and Me to the art-metal vanguard, but the three-song EP does find the band on surer footing from which to make their next leap forward. The last track in particular, "Lunar Wilderness," gets surprisingly good mileage from an unlikely source: power metal, maybe the least reputable of metal subgenres. It's the metal niche that has least renounced the campy excesses of new-wave Brit metal a la Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but it's also the most melodic, its tell signs being clean-sung harmonies and dramatic synths that tend to blast out from behind the guitars. It turns out the style makes a good segue between the sections of "Lunar Wilderness" that are rooted in grindcore and those that are rooted in blues, and the effectiveness with which Between the Buried and Me employs those soaring melodies suggests they may yet develop their own mutant pop sensibility.
The first two songs are both longer and more dynamic; they're also wildly uneven, with very cool ideas alternating, often in rapid succession, with bad or overly familiar ones. "Augment of Rebirth" is definitely the better of the pair, its playful, largely acoustic middle section drawing on the influences of Mike Patton and Tom Waits for a bizarre, bar-band-in-hell interlude. Like too many of Between the Buried and Me's more stimulating sound combinations, it's rushed through entirely too quickly, feeling tossed-off and almost unintentional. Moments like those can't help but throw Between the Buried and Me's taste level into question: One gets the impression of a process-oriented group of musicians who don't seem especially good at discriminating between the outcomes of their various experiments.
More than anything else, Between the Buried and Me is dependent on their ability to generate momentum, by virtue of which they can keep listeners engaged in these unwieldy but ultimately rewarding compositions. By that standard, The Parallax is a success, though its true significance will be determined by how the band capitalizes on that momentum when they complete the two-part series with their forthcoming LP.