This record was released in the late Summer/Fall of 2007. And 2007, was probably one-of if not the biggest year for new music for myself. Before hearing Colors, I was totally obsessed with the likes of Kaddisfly's Set Sail the Prairie, The Dear Hunter's Act II, Fair to Midland's Fables from a Mayfly and in truth, a laundry list of others.
But come late August or September I recall, there happened to be a constant amount of obsession about this new album from BTBAM. And I really, had next-to-no interest or thought about even considering it. But I guess it came down to so much hyping on the forums and I gave in.
But to back track a bit, their name I knew about for many years. I recall even seeing a video of theirs on the new Headbanger's Ball when it 1st came back onto MTV2 I think around 2004 or 2005. I specifically remember making a comment about them not being cohesive or growls with humor and thrash was just pointless. I forget. I know I gave 1 or 2 examples of a band who was better, etc.
But, in remembering that, I was being naive, and of course looking back on that, I wish I had been more open to their music, and the stuff I read about them.
For some reason I figured their vocals especially, were just going to ruin anything I might enjoy.
But at that point I really was limited in the Metal I liked. It was going to have to be pretty clean singing prog metal or my odds of liking it were low. I did like Opeth, even though I would laugh half the time at the growling. And Orphaned Land, whose music I enjoyed enough, but admitted the "Orphan Jam" with no growling, was my favorite thing I'd heard from them. And the likes of borderline screaming from Pain of Salvation and even Faith No More. But for the most part, I couldn't handle ANY of it.
But then in just reading more and more about the reactions to this album and their style, history, for probably 10 days or so, I just had to give in and (re)check this band out. And I specifically remember after listening to Colors 3 or 4 times in a few days saying "I'm almost in disbelief about this, but this album will probably be in my top 10 for the year" or something along those lines (mp.com's fall 2007 BTBAM Colors topic would show).
So, I did get won over, nearly 10 or 20 fold, in a totally out of nowhere, unexpected way. A few things to note:
1) the screaming I came to be able to hear, instead of like an annoying or silly throat exercise, but more like a rhythm guitar part. I didn't mind how it sounded, or what the lyrics were being sung.
2) Tommy's clean vocals I totally got into. I recall someone said they loved how he had this "Thom Yorke thing" but I remember saying he sounded a lot more like Josh from Kiss Kiss.
3) the music was not chaotic, or extremely un-cohesive. It actually was extremely well thought-out and the little intervals and things actually were charming and not overdone.
4) the musicianship: I hadn't really noticed it, but I came to really acknowledge the band's chops. Blake Richardson's drumming to Dustie and especially Paul's guitar work, tonally, using syncopation and dynamics really stood out the more I listened to this album.
5) Dream Theater and some others: Namely Dream Theater I came to hear a lot of influence with this band and this album. I think the drum work and a lot of the guitar tones especially. I hear parts of Scenes From a Memory for one in different places on this album. And I remember reading someone say SFAM is or was considered the band's jointly favorite record, or maybe collectively their biggest influence? something along those lines. Which I've heard my share of Dream Theater influenced bands, some good, some copycats and just unoriginal; but I found BTBAM really just showed their Dream Theater influence to the right degree. Not sounding identical, but sharing many of the qualities to songwriting and including extended musical ideas, etc. I.e. using the DT influence to their benefit.
I actually will never forget my friend That Drummer Guy also making a topic "Is BTBAM becoming Dream Theater?" lol. It was and still in some ways a valid question actually.
So, as far as specifics:
"White Walls:" is an amazing closing track filled with almost out-of-body levels of emotion. The way it slowly builds and builds, it's like a locomotive gaining steam and force, almost to the point it seems unstoppable.
The 1st 3 or 4 minutes set the tone, but then the tracking of layering and interplay of guitars and drums. Then it does have a calm-before-the-storm with Tommy's clean chanting in a gorgeous mellow part that leads to a clean picking guitar line with some thick synth layers; which adds a lot of ambience. That section last maybe 2 or three minutes, until the grand finale and probably the band's greatest section.
"get. out. of. this. closed. off. circle"
Tommy screams...and the reprise of Paul Waggoner's intense rhythmic
"this is all we havvvvvvvvvvv...when we dieeeeeeeeeeeeee
it's what's left of us...when we die"
"we will be remembered for this"
And then, the song goes into what I think of as a section that I could listen to for 4 or 5 times as long as it is. The guitar solo is just so bloody good. It flows harmonically and melodically. Some may think it's a totally strange comparison, but I remember after seeing a movie theater screening of Led Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same, thinking "Stairway to Heaven" has a very similar feel and flow to it. The way it builds and leads to this great exercise in letting things loose. I'm not sure I can exactly put into words the idea, but there just seems to be a similar ideal in the epic nature of the ending of "White Walls" and Stairway. And I happen to love "Stairway to Heaven" still to this day, so that gave me all the more reason to connect with "White Walls."
And "White Walls," really is one of the greatest pieces of music made in recent years.
However, some of the others parts of this record that stand out:
"Sun of Nothing" starts off intense, almost like a fast jam, but then changes gears enough to keep you interested. The screaming contrasts enough with the ferocious guitar riffs and snare and cymbal work from Blake Richardson, it starts to eventually blend into an incredible combination.
Some of the clean, major key guitar work really adds a lot to it.
-The frequent intervals of lower voice boxes
-The quieter sections are wonderful. The "I'm floating" with the change in guitar tone and thick synths.
I love the guitar variations. Paul and Dustie are masters at switching tempos, moods, textures and tones to fit where the rest of the song goes.
I remember specifically being won over by this song especially how the intense opening leading to those amazing changes in mood and beauty. It somehow found the band sounding like 2 or 3 different bands or styles of music in some ways, but after taking it in a few times, it seemed to totally work on a dynamic level. Sort of like how we have those mood swings sometimes or stories that are really serious, then our mindset changes with humor or a change in subject, and then shifts to something else. BTBAM on a musical level, came to totally know how to swing the mood without coming across as unnatural or forced.
"i'm floating towards the sun.....the sun of nothing...floating towards the sun....the sun of nuhhh-theeen. I have become the sun of nothing"
the outro even rocks hard, but almost not in a heavier, Metal way, but just the right amount of amplification.
And then it journeys into that intensity and back and forth between guitars, Tommy's growls and that segue nicely into "Ants of the Sky."
"Ants of the Sky" is maybe a more consistently heavy and busy piece. I think my favorite section being the almost Southern element, which I often hear a band like Kansas. I'm referring to some of the keys with the guitars. It almost sounds like a piece you'd hear at bluegrass night or OK Chorale. I mean this band are from North Carolina, so they are not without some Southern music influences.
The guitar riff on Ants as well as many other sections of this record are just so driving, so much so, I remember just enjoying the ride. Sure, I couldn't understand the lyrics and a lot of it was including more distortion than I was used to. But there was part of my brain that just enjoyed getting through it. Almost to the point, I enjoyed the heavy intense parts as much if not more than the clean melodic parts. Including Tommy's voice. Their sound, sounded more normal or natural with him screaming and those pounding guitar riffs and drum patterns.
"Sleep on. Fly on. In your mind. You can fly
Sleeeeeep on. Flyyyyy on. In you mind. You can fly"
That section again is another example of a perfect segue.
And then it leading to the an actual bluegrass section which sounds like it's from some southern saloon with line dancing or something. Which lasts like a minute, and then the band go back to the distortion with a great clean guitar solo/outro (and even a little bit of trumpet?).
"Prequel to the Sequel" I remember enjoying its upbeat, almost marching style, which goes on for a few minutes and then has the band go back into another intense driving shift and breakdown. Around the 3-and-a-half minute point, they start to do this cool time changing with syncopating. Unusual, but it still goes with the flow of the song. It leads to almost a ritualistic section that even includes some accordion synths with Tommy using his Mike Patton style of background chanting.
It noticed its walking seemed more staggered than normal.
The breeze didn't flow like it used to...
the heart seemed to pound slower and slower...
what caused this? (what caused this?)
It seen was noticed that these three had torn every branch, every single stem...
screamed (but not growled)
torn to its last life...
how hadn't it noticed
a drastic change in the surroundings...
It didn't think anything could go this wrong.
"Comfort!...Comfort Comfort Comfort!.....Comfort Comfort Comfort!"
I really love the way Tommy changes his voice so fluidly here. And how the screaming is screaming, not growling. It sounds more like how Toby Driver or Daniel Gildenlow screams rather than the tone and style of his 'core voice. And I think somehow that has it come across more powerful and human.
edit: apparently this section is not sung by Tommy but Adam Fisher of the band Fear Before. Something of course I have never seen mentioned and would explain how different sounding the screaming is. It's a great vocal section regardless, and live, I imagine Tommy does perform it (or did when the band has played this track).
I think Tommy sings "when will you learrrn" a few minutes in, which I wonder within the concept of this record if it's a self reflection (I'd lean towards it being one).
After a few minutes of intensity, what is the 1st of many more calming, dreamy parts of Colors. "Feed Me Fear" is repeated and then segued to end with that middle eastern sounding percussion.
-"[b]the Decade of Statues" I think of the interplay with a wah-wah pedal that accents on the offbeat. In fact, it doesn't happen for too long, I could go for that part.
It segues into these chromatic guitar runs that almost sound lower fi.
-"Viridian" really is just an overture or intro to "White Walls." But it's a nice, mellow piece that works well in how the ending of Colors was composed.
So, to summarize, this record is kind of all over the place in a good way. Sort of the culmination of years wanting to fit many parts and ideas into songs, and finally doing it well.
But as for its significance, it seems to be to me for a few reasons.
1) I never could get into Extreme Metal, metal with any kind of screaming
2) it opened the doors for me to enjoy a ton of music/metal, namely technical and progressive still (but not exclusively, like Black Metal and even a little Doom Metal), that I likely never would have been up for, almost entirely based on the inability to hear screaming. Now, in some cases like punk screaming like with The Dillinger Escape Plan or Deftones, I still can't quite get past the vocals. But the % of screaming I can tolerate if not enjoy went up significantly.
3) It became a fine work of 60 or so minutes. Almost like 1 song, really or a suite. And it was a trip to listen to. The dynamics and ability to compose such differing styles of music so naturally, was almost unthink-able. I mean how many bands have ever included Bluegrass with Metal? no matter how short or long? Some say it can come across as blatant and a gimmick. I guess for me, having never even heard or thought of that idea, it was charming and worked on this record.
4) this was the record I enjoyed the most of theirs. "White Walls" being the piece/part/song I enjoy the most in their entire catalog, and it's fair to say the song that won me over single-handed-ly.
And while I do enjoy Alaska, The Silent Circus and some of their others, Colors still wins. And sadly, where they are going, I am not sure if I will ever be won over at this level by them again. Although as I've said many times, I'd love that to happen. But if it doesn't this still remains their masterpiece and peak of sorts. And a highly important record for me and really for progressive rock and Metal kids. fans, musicians around. It and the band have reached a lot of people who normally never would like progressive rock or metal because of this band and this album specifically. In that sense, I kind of do see BTBAM and Colors as a template or standard for where metal has gone the last 10 years or so. Is it maybe even in some ways like a Metal Dark Side of the Moon? in some ways, on a smaller level, perhaps.
It's like a drug or a marathon of sorts metaphorically, Colors really is a trip or journey (and concept/story..) that somehow the more times you get through it, the more you appreciate it.