Between the Buried and Me’s ‘Automata I’ Is Brilliant But Problematic – Album Review
Why would Between the Buried and Me do this to us? Making us wait another three months to hear the second half of their Automata album… especially when part one is so magnificent. It’s a torturous notion for prog fanatics, so here’s the question we aim to address: Is it worth listening to Automata I before Automata II is released?
With six tracks comprising Automata I, the album clocks in at around 35 minutes, just a bit longer than Between the Buried and Me’s 2011 EP, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. As a precursor to The Parallax II: Future Sequence (which BTBAM fans hold as precious as the exalted Colors) Hypersleep Dialogues was a fine piece, but Future Sequence turned the EP into a non-entity thanks to 73 minutes of Michaelangelean audio sculpture. With BTBAM’s stellar conceptual works — Colors, The Great Misdirect, The Parallax II and Coma Ecliptic — all lasting an hour or longer, can a 35-minute studio album really give fans the epic guided experience they’re looking for?
Automata I begins with “Condemned to the Gallows,” introducing the storyline of dreams being broadcast for the purpose of entertainment. The concept begs existential questions surrounding the dreamer and audience, along with the ethics of Voice of Trespass, the mysterious company airing these dreams. The track is classically diverse, mixing deep grooves, soaring vocal parts, serene sections and blissful guitar solos. It’s as excellent an opening track BTBAM have ever put to tape, and the ride continues gloriously.
The heavy and transitory “House Organ” can be compared to Coma Ecliptic’s “Dim Ignition,” as the short but essential bridge sets up the following track, which on Automata I, is the menacing “Yellow Eyes.” Keeping the dream state thick, “Yellow Eyes” gives frontman Tommy Rogers just enough room to get weird with his futural keyboard work and anti-crooning of “Yellow, yellow.” Bassist Dan Briggs also stands out on the second half of “Yellow Eyes,” slapping circles around the concrete pillars of drummer Blake Richardson and guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring.
You know that “wormhole” feeling you get when listening to a conceptual BTBAM work? That separation of space-time will surely appear during any focused listen of Automata I; its gravity undeniable. “Millions” offers some of Automata I’s catchiest moments and will surely inspire fans to hold their hands to the sky while singing, “Millions fly overhead.” The dynamic shifts of calm vs. erratic will keep listeners grounded, not allowing for too much zone-out time until the satisfying breath-of-air interlude “Gold Distance.”
The final track, “Blot,” is where Automata I will enthuse and disappoint simultaneously. As the only track eclipsing 10 minutes in length, “Blot” really shifts the Automata I into hyperdrive, giving BTBAM the most space yet to flex their prog muscles. “Blot” is filled with anthemic choruses, sophisticated Waggoner/Waring riffage and cavernous sonic layering. There’s not a dull or inconsequential moment on Automata I, and that's where the issue lies.
Ever find yourself being jolted awake in the middle of a dream? At the very best part when you’re dying to find out what happens next? Between the Buried and Me pull the plug on Automata with that same frustration. Now you’re forced to stay awake until June.
The decision-making behind this is baffling. It’s completely antithetical to what BTBAM have given their fans for the past decade, which transformed a standout metalcore band into 21st century prog deities. The sudden halt of Automata I is a painful one and, in all likelihood, will give concept fiends a serious case of aural blue balls.
How would you have felt if Colors suddenly ended after “Sun of Nothing” or Parallax II cut out after “Telos”? Would it really have been the same experience? Automata has the potential to be one of BTBAM’s most incredible masterworks to date (and we’ll sound off on that when Automata II drops) but you may want to wait for June instead of hanging half a Picasso on your wall.
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