In a case of history repeating itself in the best way possible, prog metal titans Haken and Between the Buried and Me join forces once again to return for the Islands in Limbo co-headline tour – a tour that will surely go down as one of the pivotal tours in each band’s already impressive history. New York progressive death metal up-and-comers Cryptodira would support.
Cryptodira were up first and a vast majority were unfamiliar with them but a great deal of people left as fans. They had a lot of bombast and intricate musicianship as you would expect on this type of bill but it’s very easy to get the wrong type of band on this bill.
Cryptodira began with the abrasive ‘Dante’s Inspiration’ and that gave people a really good idea of what to expect from them: hardcore-inspired progressive metal, the ultimate oxymoron. The clean sections would act as a tense break before springing into Scott Aqcuavella’s beautiful clean vocals before going into another hardcore section. It’s also worth noting that all of this took place in under four minutes.
It’s amazing to see a new band be this unpredictable without being bewildering. They even played a newer song, ‘Hyperwealth’, which flew under the radars of too many people as it could easily become a new favourite on prog metal playlists around the world with its Cynic-inspired vocal harmonies and flailing instrumental work that is daunting to even consider trying to play.
Between the Buried and Me were next up and they were in peak form even with the absence of Dustie Waring who could not tour due to health reasons. They began with the oddball synth riff of ‘Extremophile Elite’ that progressed in the usual BTBAM way: by being completely wild and unpredictable at all times.
The uninitiated would be completely lost during a BTBAM show as their weaving guitar riffs and godlike drumming seem to go off on tangents and flail seemingly at random despite being absolute masters of their instruments.
‘Revolution in Limbo’ was one of many hulking epics that made up the set, the breakneck twists and turns kept it as engaging as it was confusing but at no point was it ever frustrating or confusing. There was always a logical throughline between moments and the moments of quiet and gentle melody made for a masterful juxtaposition between the devastatingly heavy and frenetic moments of the song.
‘Colours II’ made up the majority of the set and it made for some of the strongest moments of the night. The surf rock inspired ‘Fix the Error’ utilised a really catchy Hammond organ style sound and at times it felt like going to a gospel church as everyone testified and had a biblical experience moshing around and dancing to the wild and free-spirited beat.
Bizarrely enough, one of the heavier moments of BTBAM’s set was ‘Dim Ignition’. A two-minute interlude consisted of dark and brooding layered synth riffs with Tommy Giles vocals still sounding as good today as they were 25 years ago when the band formed. This track led into ‘Famine Wolf’, a song that featured blistering guitar work from Paul Waggoner who had the daunting task of performing this set without his partner in crime Dustie Waring.
‘Juxtaposition’ is a very well-utilised tool in BTBAM’s arsenal. They have really deep and thoughtful lyricism and masterful instrumentals before featuring a hoedown or accordion solo or wacky hijinks music you would find in a Rob Schneider comedy and this is best exemplified in ‘Voice of Trespass’.
Some will be disappointed to learn that ‘White Walls’, ‘Selkies’ and ‘Mordecai‘ were absent but ‘Voice of Trespass’ is an absolute marvel that filled the void. It even managed to inspire not only a mosh pit but a confused message from photographer Chris Ryan asking “what the hell is going on in there?” Its blaring horn section, jazz-inspired drumming and bee-bop style scatting from Tommy make this not only one of the highlights of the night but a contender for one of BTBAM’s best songs they have ever made.
Between the Buried and Me are prog metal pioneers and they continue to innovate long into their career – their live show exemplifies just how far they have come despite many obstacles and hopefully they will continue to create some of the most bananas music known to man.
Haken made their presence felt with the ominous open B machine gun riffing of ‘Prosthetic’ that seemed to get louder as they got closer to the stage. The band took their places and would stand guard as they began playing tracks that would frustrate even the most studious of guitar players all while looking very smart with their floral shirts. Frontman Ross Jennings would burst on stage at this point armed with his mic stand that he would wield and strut around the stage with. I threw my voice incredibly early in the show as the chorus had been stuck in my head for weeks before the show and will likely be stuck in the heads of thousands of people over the course of this tour as so many have heard it all before.
Based on experience from previous shows, Haken have been incredible at the buildup and ‘Invasion’ is the absolute peak of their strength at tension building. The ominous synth and Ross’ haunting vocals give this sense of impending threat before Ray Hearne’s dynamic drumming kicks in. ‘Invasion’ is one of the heaviest tracks the band have released, its crushing breakdown and bleak tone make this an absolute standout.
The band had some lighter moments that would work incredibly well as gateway songs for people trying to get into prog directly from pop. ‘Alphabet of Me’ leans so heavily on synth hooks and grand hook-filled vocals that you could be forgiven for forgetting there were still heavy 8-string guitar riffs and complex hybrid picking riffs and oddball time signatures.
With a co-headline tour reducing the length of their set, some were worried that would stop Haken from playing the gigantic behemoth tracks that made them so beloved. Those fears can be put to rest as the band played a landmark track from their seminal album The Mountain, ‘Falling Back to Earth’ which is just as epic and massive as the day it was released with some jaw-dropping guitar work from Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths as well as a beautifully melodramatic moment of Ross recreating the Atlas Stone pose.
Haken had a difficult job choosing a setlist as they had to tour two albums Fauna and Virus. Fauna hadn’t been out for long enough to generate fan favourites outside of the singles so they would be the only tracks from the record so far. The brutish juggernaut of ‘Taurus’ was one of the heavier moments of the new record and it led really well into an absolute classic, ‘The Endless Knot’.
Many people were curious to see what keyboardist Pete Jones was going to do with ‘The Endless Knot’ and he was pitch-perfect. You could convince the average listener that he’d been playing this track for years. The dubstep influence is really strong here and it fits perfectly against the darker tone of the song as it shifts and undulates in glorious Prog fashion.
This tour also marked the appearance of a new juggernaut in the Haken back catalogue ‘Messiah Complex’. Spanning a gargantuan seventeen minutes, ‘Messiah Complex’ shows off Haken as awe-inspiring musicians and songwriters as very few bands can keep the attention of so many people for so long. This track also shows the importance of an engaging frontman as a prog show has a tendency to be rather dry and alienating to people who aren’t musicians.
Haken and Between the Buried and Me are masterclasses in songwriting, stage presence and creativity and they also act as an inspiration for thousands upon thousands of musicians to pick up their instruments. While the tech arms race may tire some, it presents a personal challenge to many. It’s akin to being stared down by every member of a band and challenged to perform. This is why prog has endured as a genre that will persist long after our beloved bands have faded away.
Stay tuned for an interview with Haken frontman Ross Jennings on RAMzine.