Between The Buried And Me

Automata I & II

Written by: AP on 19/12/2018 22:10:48

Whenever a new album from Between the Buried and Me appears on the horizon, it tends to land on pretty much every most anticipated records of the year -list. There is a good reason for this: the Raleigh, NC-born five-piece has shown astonishing consistency over the course of nearly two decades, in creating some of the most breathtaking progressive metal of their generation. It was no different with their eighth and latest offering, “Automata”, which faced the insurmountable task of succeeding 2015’s “Coma Ecliptic” (one of the best albums of that year) and continuing the band’s push toward immortality. It was divided into two separate entities not because of any deeper meaning or thematic juxtaposition between them, but simply in order to enable listeners to really dive into and absorb the music — though if I am honest, that decision feels somewhat patronising toward their fans who, by now, have surely proven themselves capable of digesting whatever colossus the band should throw at them in one go. This is also why I have chosen to dissect all 68 minutes of “Automata” in its original form.

Between the Buried and Me have come a long way since their earliest works in the beginning of the millennium, slowly adding more and more touches of classic progressive rock to their palette whilst ostracising the elements of grindcore and mathcore that used to have a heavy presence in their sound. And with that in mind, “Automata” might even come across as a bit underwhelming to long-standing fans, given that it does not bring the same wealth of fresh ideas to the table as its predecessor. Still, as underlined by the opening track to part I, “Condemned to the Gallows”, even below their maximum capacity Between the Buried and Me leave most of their peers struggling to match them in terms of both songwriting and technical ability. The song is a classic BTBAM piece, opening up with a teasing piano soliloquy, rising to its feet grandiosely, and spreading its wings to arouse a storm of dissonant extremity, before a neoclassical guitar solo by Paul Waggoner announces the transition into a crescendo, in which the scintillating key strokes and melancholy singing by frontman Thomas Giles Rogers Jr. in particular make an impression. But it is perhaps a bit too classic, rehashing the structure and tone of the band’s 2015 track “Coma Machine” practically to the note, and in fact, it is not until the fourth song, “Millions”, that those familiar goosebumps that only the most masterfully written ‘Buried and Me songs can stir up start crawling up my skin at last.

When “The Great Misdirect” came out in 2010, the likes of “Yellow Eyes” here easily stood out by virtue of their polyrhythmic dynamics and noodly melodies, but as the band has evolved, so too have the expectations one has for them. The technical competences of Waggoner, Rogers and the rest of the gang — bassist Dan Briggs, rhythm guitarist Dustie Waring & drummer Blake Richardson — have lost their shock factor, so it is now their penchant for weaving surprises into the fabric of their sound that creates intrigue. “Millions” exemplifies this perfectly, catching the listener off guard with a muted and atmospheric style that verges on post-rock at times, and then rewards your curiosity with a chorus pairing a wistfully soaring Waggoner-lead with obliquely worded, yet hauntingly sung lyrics by Rogers:

Millions fly overhead / Fog dancing slavery… like snakes circling / Small angle jeopardy

The king of “Automata I”, however, is without a doubt the finale, “Blot”, which distills everything I love about Between the Buried and Me into its 10 minutes of runtime. Starting with an oriental-style keyboard melody, the song is a potpourri of unexpected twists and turns, jarring stop/start dynamics and King Crimson-esque fusions of ornate tunes and discordance. But it also features a chorus to remember (“Exploring the escape / Endless lives whispering by, so fast, circulate…”), not to mention an eerie mantra by Rogers around the 07:20-mark, voiced over synths so ‘80s they might as well be from Tron. Quite seamlessly out of its wake arises the standout “Proverbial Bellow” to usher in the second half of the opus, recalling both the uplifting tone and theatrical composition of “Prequel to the Sequel” from BTBAM’s magnum opus, 2007’s “Colors”. Unlike the opener of the first half, “The Proverbial Bellow” however quickly sheds the overt similarities to the band’s past creations, sprawling into a metropolis of individual parts, artfully tied together by another mesmerising chorus from Rogers, sung with Queen-like drama as the two guitarists pull beautiful minor notes out of their instruments:

Please pick up… pick up the phone / It’s been ringing for years now / I’m so alone here / Sensory bliss

One thing Between the Buried and Me have gradually eschewed from their music since “Colors” is the wackiness that would suddenly erupt in songs like “Informal Gluttony” and “Sun of Nothing”. It is reprised on “Automata II” to some extent though, which probably explains why both “Glide” and “Voice of Trespass” inspire such a rush of nostalgia within me, the former with its broken carnival sounds and the latter by virtue of an audacious brass section, which helps it roll like Motörhead on a bad acid trip. Unquestionably, “Voice of Trespass” is the most brazen and eccentric piece of music the band has written to date, taking all those quirky ideas of old and raising the stakes by creating an 8-minute song out of them. It is so intoxicating that even the blazing, Steven Wilson-inspired guitar solo in the rear end of “The Grid” falls quite flat as the album’s conclusive moment.

By now, my ramblings must have betrayed the ambivalent feelings I have toward “Automata”, thus. While the record contains a selection of tracks that shoot straight for the top tier of Between the Buried and Me’s musical output — tracks that have already established themselves among my all-time favourites from the band — it also brings a number of songs to the table that do nothing to advance the North Carolinians’ ever-expanding ambition. Mind you, those songs still leaves most of the group’s peers trailing the dust given the songwriting prowess and virtuosic musicianship on display in them. Just, compared to the band’s own standard, they come dangerously close to disappointing, and “Automata” would likely have been a more impressive album overall had some of this flotsam and jetsam been discarded and its running length reduced closer to 45 minutes. Nevertheless, even despite these grievances of mine, “Automata” easily ranks as one of the most crucial progressive metal records of the year, one you should not hesitate to jot down as a late addition to your Christmas wishes.


Download: Millions, Blot, The Proverbial Bellow, Voice of Trespass
For the fans of: August Burns Red, Haken, Leprous, Opeth
Listen: Facebook

Release date 09.03.2018 (I) / 13.07.2018 (II)
Sumerian Records

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