As a prog metal kid growing up in rural Kentucky, I longed for an imaginary scenario in which I’d see my favorite progressive groups playing to packed rooms. Kentucky was a dead zone for almost all of the bands I liked. So, imagine my surprise, 20+ years later, standing in Diamond Pub and Billiards in Louisville, Kentucky, in a room that is absolutely filled to the brim with progressive metal fans, banging their heads to insanely complex polyrhythms and singing along to every word and growl. Astronoid/TesseracT/Between the Buried and Me treated us to an incredible night of music, and showed us some tremendous love here in the land of bourbon, horses, and fried chicken, despite the wear and weight of it being the last stop on their latest North American tour.
Openers Astronoid kicked off the night with gorgeously layered atmospheric post-metal. They recently released their self titled sophomore album, which has been met with critical acclaim for its melodic sensibility and production. While their music was quite heavy, there is so much atmosphere in their music that there is almost a peaceful, meditative quality to their sound and lyrics, which transferred well to the live setting. I was initially worried that the singer’s soothing voice would be drowned in the thick washes and spacey sound, but thanks to excellent sound work, everything was well balanced and mixed. Their set was a mixture of songs from 2016’s Air and 2018’s Astronoid.
I had listened to TesseracT in the past, but my interest piqued with their release of Polaris in 2015, and then Sonder in 2018. Sonder ended up becoming one of my most-listened to albums of that year, which, as a music reviewer who is constantly drowning in new music, definitely means something. I had high expectations for a band that had incredibly challenging vocals and rhythms, and they delivered. Daniel Tompkins’ experience as a frontman shows, and he commanded the crowd with noticeable gravitas and charisma and handled some incredibly difficult vocal lines with relative ease, especially as the concert progressed. As a drummer, I particularly enjoyed watching Jay Postones, who played with intensity and precision. The band was as tight as I could have hoped, and TesseracT exceeded my already high expectations with a solid set of music that would have won over any neophyte. I was happy to hear several tracks from Sonder, among them “King”, “Juno”, and “Luminary”.
Between the Buried and Me took the stage to frenzied shouts and palpable excitement (“BT-BAM! BT-BAM!”), and they matched and elevated that excitement with opener “The Proverbial Bellow” from 2018’s Automata II, a dizzying firestorm of a song. I often feel like Between the Buried and Me belongs on Ipecac Records, because they jump from genre to genre in a matter of measures, so it’s easy for the uninitiated to get some whiplash. All of this frenetic energy is channeled through frontman Tommy Giles, who deftly handles all of the changes, switching from crooner to mad preacher to demon without a break in between. In an evening of already technical music, BTBAM showed their monstrous talent with some of the most insanely complex musical passages of the night.
I was surprised to hear a balance of old(ish) songs and newer songs, which was a pleasant surprise. A particular highlight was the Bungle-esque epic “Fossil Genera – A Feed from Cloud Mountain” from 2009’s The Great Misdirect. The first BTBAM record I got into was Coma Ecliptic, so I was pleased to hear “Life in Velvet” and “Option Oblivion”, two of my favorite tracks from that record. I appreciated the diversity of the setlist, and it just proved the depth and endurance of one of prog metal’s biggest acts.
When I first discovered the progressive metal genre in the late 90s, there was a more predictable and consistent sound associated with that genre label. In 2019, genres have been diffused to the point of meaninglessness, so I default to the more abiding descriptor, which is to use “progressive” as an umbrella term that embodies more of an ethos than a specific sound- a bold, reckless, adventurous approach to music that veers away from convention and easy musical choices. This evening was a great peek into the past, present, and future of progressive metal.
Thanks to Speakeasy Public Relations and Marketing for allowing for coverage of this show, and to Astronoid, TesseracT, and Between the Buried and Me for putting on a hell of a show.