Between The Buried And Me - Automata I & II

Regular price $ 33.99

Both albums together on Magenta & Electric Blue Colored Vinyl

Over the course of nearly 20 years, North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me have challenged fans. Since the technical thrashing on their 2002 self-titled debut, stylistic shifts, panoramic production aesthetics, and musical evolution have succeeded in placing them alongside Opeth, Dream Theater, and Symphony X as prog metal innovators. Automata I is the first volume in a two-part concept album; the second followed a few months later. Keyboardist/vocalist Tommy Rogers explained the concept as centered around "…a protagonist whose dreams are used as entertainment, broadcasted by a company called Voice of Trespass. Most of the record takes place within that dream. [He] thinks it's all real." Since we only get half the story here, it's impossible to evaluate how the entire concept comes together. This leaves the primary evaluation weight on the music and lyrics of the individual songs. Also, given the lengthy proceedings of titles in their catalog, Automata I's running time -- 35 minutes -- might be an issue for some: It is only two minutes longer than 2011's The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues EP.

The music here steps away some from the overt King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Steven Wilson influences threaded throughout 2015's brilliant Coma Ecliptic, though they haven't disappeared. The intro to single "Condemned to the Gallows" spends its first minute on the Wilson-esque fingerpicked guitars' rich, dark, synth atmospherics. When the tune gains momentum, keyboards hover behind Blake Richardson's tom-tom-heavy drums as guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring turn on the over-amped churn and chug with angular riffing and soaring dual leads. Richardson uses his dirty vocals a lot on this album. He shifts between them and his melodic clean singing seamlessly here. "House Organ" is a crushing three-minute setup for "Yellow Eyes," a showcase for Rogers' strange, alternately dissonant, harmonic, and cinematic keyboards, and Dan Briggs' bass thrum, which drives the hell out of the tune's second half. The interplay between guitarists is twisted and intricate, and perfectly underscores the emotional poignancy in the narrative -- especially in its hooky refrain. "Millions" commences with a limpid, whimsical dreaminess in intro, verse, and melody, but its full-turn-on-a-dime heavier elements -- introduced by Richardson's kit -- add elements of disorder; they're carried out with relish by the guitarists and Briggs. Closer "Blot" is a true BTBAM journey through the prog metal labyrinth. Almost 11 minutes long, it serves as the closer here, and as the hingepiece between volumes. It's a mini-suite complete with manic keyboard and bass flourishes, sitar and tabla effects, a wide dynamic range, and galloping guitars balanced by alternately syncopated and hard-grooving drums. Its bridge sounds like a tribute to David Bowie's glam era. Automata I is excellent on its own; its writing, production, and performances are all top flight. Additionally, it whets the appetite of anticipation for part two.

Automata II is the conclusion of Between the Buried and Me's multi-volume concept recording whose narrative revolves around a protagonist whose dreams are stolen and presented as entertainment via broadcast by a nefarious union between state and commerce. The first part appeared in March 2018 to almost exclusively positive reviews as writing, performance, and production were all top-notch. From the jump, it's troubling that this four-song, 31-minute sequel is even shorter than its predecessor, which clocked in at a shade over 35 minutes; both recordings could easily have fit on a single disc. What's more, this set is even shorter than the 2011 EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, making it more of a head scratcher as an "album." (Let's face it, BTBAM fans are used to long records.)

Despite this questionable packaging, the music matches the quality of its predecessor. Opener "The Proverbial Bellow" commences with the full band chugging in syncopated rhythms, guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring turn on the over-amped churn, with Tommy Rogers alternately offering dirty and clean vocals barking and plaintively singing the lyrics as a Deep Purple-esque organ; repetitive, hypnotic piano lines and pointillistic guitars support him before erupting into cacophony near the halfway point via thundering tom-toms courtesy of Blake Richardson. Djent and prog go at one another, creating swirls of sonic color as the music balances the confusion and panic in the lyrics. After the momentary yet welcome distraction of "Glide" (complete with accordion, calliope, and piano) introduces -- in waltz time -- "Voice of Trespass" (titled for the name of the company that steals and broadcasts dreams). Introduced by a full band gallop, they are joined by horns that give way to swinging gypsy jazz acoustic guitar (à la Django Reinhardt) and acoustic piano, before assuming the punchy verses with Rogers screaming the lyrics. Throughout its 13-plus-minute run, the tracks flirt with fingerpopping jazz, vintage Canterbury-styled prog rock, death metal, and more Those fat horns add unexpected -- and welcome -- timbral and textural qualities. Interestingly, the track's second half invests in meaty, doom riffery (from guitars, keyboards, and horns), that unites the halves of Automata as a whole. "The Grid" is an epic closer. Elements of Kim Thayil's (Soundgarden) guitar sound intertwine with bass, drum, and keyboard tenets of prog amid clean and dirty vocals, distorted mellotron drones, and clattering drums. About two-thirds of the way through, a Led Zeppelin-esque acoustic guitar adorned by piano introduces a long narrative conclusion wherein Rogers' vocals offer echoes of David Bowie. Automata II flows effortlessly, creating a prismatic emotional palette where music and lyrics come together to define not only the narrative arc, but a kind of spiritual and philosophical exhaustion in the listening experience. Automata II can be listened to on its own, but it holds much greater power when taken together with its predecessor. It is easily the more musically adventurous of the two recordings, making it an indispensable part of Between the Buried and Me's provocative catalog.

Automata I
Condemed To The Gallows 6:35
House Organ 3:41
Yellow Eyes 8:45
Millions 4:44
Gold Distance 1:02
Blot 10:27
Automata II
The Proverbial Bellow 13:16
Glide 2:13
Voice Of Trespass 7:58
The Grid 9:45