Ever heard a band succesfully blend musical styles like Black metal, Death metal, Grindcore, Mathcore and even Progrock? "Wow, no, but if someone did it will probably work like jack shit" you might think. But North Carolina’s BTBAM proofs that style-labels dont mean anything, because they have managed to create one of the most impressive metal records I’ve heard in years. Their previous record, 'The Silent Circus' is also one of the more experimental metalrecords out there, but 'Alaska' seems to be a crowning achievement for the bands relatively young career.
The band consists of amazing musicians who seem to be able to play basically anything metal related, so everything is perfect in that department. Tommy Rodger’s vocals change from black metal screams, grindcore grunts and growls, spiced up with the occasional clean melodic stuff. Drumming is tight, creative and fast. Drummer Blake Richardson also occupies the drumthrone in Glass Casket, and if you know that band you know that the guy can play. I can’t say anything bad about the guitardepartment, the trio of Paul Waggoner (Guitar), Dan Briggs (Bass) and Dusty Waring (Guitar) seem to have no problems with switching from relentless riffing to melodic guitarleads.
I am just going to highlight some songs that really made this record work for me:
Opener "All Bodies" starts as a typical sludgy, technical death metal tune, but with a neat melodic chorus. When typical, almost Dimmu Borgir like synths kick in you know you’re in for something. Shredding blastbeats and riffing ensue, and the song ends with that cool chorus and some great singalong stuff that will work well with a live crowd.
"Croakies and Boatshoes" is another statement. Some great grindcore influences in this track with some of the typical piggy screaming you either love or hate. "Selkies" is one of the highlights of this album. I mentioned progrock earlier in this review; and well, this song basically starts out like a cool prog song, and actually reminded me of Opeth a bit. Halfway through the song jumps ship and builds into a great piece of atmospheric and melodic metal, epic stuff. This song also reminded me of "Mordecai", a great tune on the bands previous record.
The eight-minute "Backwards Marathon" is definined by its lengthy, Pink Floyd/Tool-ish calm and atmospheric bridge. The song basically bulldozers its way into this part, allowing your mind to basically take a break. Instead of brutally getting back to agressive music, the bridge perfectly evolves into the heavier (but melodic) end of the song. And did I hear some The Mars Volta-style vocals in there? I think I did. The rain sample flows perfectly into the etheral sounding "Medicine Wheel", which is a great restpoint in the cd, and the track wouldn't be out of place on a yoga-relaxation cd.
This feeling of tranquillity gets smashed with "The Primer", a song that opens up with a riff that would make At The Gates proud, continueing with black metal guitarplaying, grinding into total chaos and picking things up again with a great melodic guitarlead in the end. Just totally awesome. The quirky closer, "Laser Speed", is even more proof of the boundary-pushing effort that is Alaska. Laid back, sort of "Hawaiian" music makes for a loungy outro. Weird, but neat.
BTBAM manages to use basically every style of metal known to man. The band is actually able to make it sound like a cohesive effort, and every song works on numerous levels. A lot of bands drown into one trick ponies, standard songwriting or too much ambitious technical playing, but Alaska has a perfect balance.
If it's not some awesome drumming or great guitarplaying that is going around, the band manages to suprise you with the unexpected. It's still chaotic, technical music in the end, so if you don't like this style of music (The Dillinger Escape Plan, Cephalic Carnage etc.) Alaska will not make you a believer. But fans of great metal in general (and all the bands I’ve mentioned in this review) should check this record out. Even if you don't love it instantly, it sticks to you like a parasite. There is simply too much talent in this band.
2. Alaska (3:58)
3. Croakies And Boatshoes (2:22)
4. Selkies: The Endless Obsession (7:23)
5. Breathe In, Breathe Out (0:56)
6. Roboturner (7:07)
7. Backwards Marathon (8:27)
8. Medicine Wheel (4:18)
9. The Primer (4:46)
10. Autodidact (5:31)
11. Laser Speed (2:53)
Paul Waggoner - Guitar
Dan Briggs - Bass
Dusty Waring - Guitar
Blake Richardson - Drums