If there is a band that has defined 2000s progressive metal more than Between The Buried And Me, I would be hard pressed to name them. Their brand of theatrical, multi-faceted, and frenetic music has shaped the output of many bands to follow them (you can read our thoughts on arguably their most influential record here). With such a status, any output from BTBAM is met with a great deal of expectation and scrutiny. It is perhaps inevitable then that we decided to review this album with not one, not two, but three It Djents team members: Pete, one of our staff writers; Inter, our PR manager; and Landon, our Editor-in-chief. You can read our thoughts below, and hear us discuss the record with an upcoming podcast.
2015 seems like a lifetime away, so my excitement was palpable when BTBAM dropped the news of their new album Automata. I only clocked “Condemned to the Gallows” once before I received the full album, and my first thoughts were of satisfaction and gratefulness. The band have not only stuck true to their roots, they’ve also advanced and adapted the over the top Queen rock-opera style so ever present in Coma Ecliptic into that classical odd, whacky progressive metal that their fans love and adore.
The result is brilliant in my eyes, especially the extremely strong first 3 tracks. “Condemed” is a brilliant opener, which truly displays this mixture of old and new that I’ve discussed. The breakdown in it could be compared in intensity to “Telos” or “Obfuscication”, certain to satisfy fans who want to bring the heavy. “House Organ” is a whacky synth mess, and it really feels like a perfect escalation from their excitingly refreshing track “Dim Ignition” from Coma, which for me was one of the standout sounds of the album. This version gets heavier, Tommy’s voice gets even more varied and nuts than before and climaxes with a perfect segue into my favourite song of the *cough* album.
“Yellow Eyes” is a scatty beast, with blast beats aplenty, and is certainly the heaviest and most furious track on the album. With catchy hooks provided by Tommy yet again, it’s probably one of the least synthiest tracks on the album, which will appease fans of the old tracks. Similar to “Fossil Genera” or “Lay Your Ghosts” to rest from their previous work, it also has a feel of bands like Intronaut at time. It spans a glorious 9 minutes, one of 2 long tracks that make the cut for Automata I. There’s some delightful bass laid down in this track too, as well as some really cool drumming from Blake.
As you might’ve picked up so far, Tommy’s vocals are a great selling point for me. For a while I’ve been hearing people slate him for his limited vocal range, but he’s really pushed the boat out in this one, using his solo work as a springboard to bring you an almost scatty Sikth-esqe lyrics, in addition to soaring cleans which sound unique and fresh even after the deluge of albums BTBAM have laid on us. “Millions”, the fourth track on the album, is a real example of this: another strange, dreamy, synth laden track where Tommy is ever present.
Bad points for me largely exist within the last song and the length of this “album”. For me “Blot” was a song which felt like the ending of Netflix shows that use their last episode to set up the next season and leave all these questions unanswered. Luckily you don’t have to sit through hours of terrible sex scenes or dull narcissistic drama, but it still feels like a cup half full to me. Don’t get me wrong, however, there are still some incredible moments in the song, with exceptional riffs and some amazing melodies which get reprised throughout. It just feels like there should’ve been a truly epic finale to this first half, but the song kind of peters out and drops dead, with my damn autoplay hitting Colours again. This album for me currently sits just below Parallax 2, but with a strong second half in Junes Automata II, and this could certainly climb above it for me.
Personal Score: 8.5/10
Well, this is kind of a hard task for me. I’m sitting here, but before trying to transform my thoughts into words, there was a comparably long period of procrastination. At first I told myself that I want to spend a good amount of time with the suspect, Between The Buried And Me‘s Automata I, but day after day passed and I finally realized that I was afraid. Afraid to admit that while this album is a pretty good, easily above average modern progressive metal record, I may have lost a crucial connection to what was once my favorite band in the world. And damn, that was a frightening thought.
Let’s start with some stats that you already know, but set a more neutral mood. Automata I marks BTBAM’s 8th album, and it takes a weird place in their turbulent and compelling discography – at least in my eyes (and ears). My first listening sessions with the album came with great joy and relief, since I recognized that they ditched a lot of their recent, overly-theatrical Queen-esque eccentricity for a more meaty and gritty sound. “Condemned To The Gallows”, which worked as the band’s lead single, opens up the 35 minutes of exciting, heavy, compelling and diverse modern prog, which channels old school elements, modern ideas, and last but not least, the band’s past itself. Based on your perspective, you could count the relatively short playtime as a major flaw, but remember, this is only part one of Automata, and my biggest tip of the hat goes towards the initiated hunger for part II, which was effortlessly generated by the record’s teasing of motifs and themes.
At this point, I don’t have to tell you anything about the virtuosity of each and every band member, and while I wished for some more presence by Dan Briggs’ vibrant bass playing, the great riffs, diverse and punctuated drumming, supporting synths and, first and foremost, Tommy Rogers’ strongest vocal performance to date (technically speaking), is above every critique. “Yellow Eyes” is such an awesomely grooving and flowing earwig, while “Blot” works as the typical “closing prog monumental” of the record. The duality of the brutal “Yellow Eyes” and the chilling and comforting “Millions” is easily one of the strongest elements of this record, followed by the journey which is “Blot”.
It really bugs me having to pinpoint my major complaint with this album, which is 100% a personal issue – the lack of magic. The search for it at the beginning, and the creeping certainty of its absence. This album is great, but there are no magic moments for me, moments which were an integral part of their first 5 albums. Did the band lose it or did I lose my ability to detect it? It bugs me to the bone, and it makes my experience and connection with the band and their new album somewhat bittersweet.
Automata I is Between The Buried In Me in 2018, one of the most important prog bands of our generation, highly influential but still never surpassed. The record is rich, profound and exciting, and while I’m a bit sad about the lack of magical moments, I’m desperate to hear Automata II later this year to complete the experience of journeying through Automata as a whole.
Personal Score: 7.5/10
When I heard that Between The Buried and Me signed to Sumerian Records, I was intrigued, curious, and mildly skeptical. Though I may be giving too much credit to a record label, there has been a certain trend that I’ve noticed in Sumerian releases that I wondered whether or not would continue on Automata I. And I might, and possibly errantly, say that it has: Automata I is BTBAM near their most streamlined and concise. But the record is not the worse for this.
“Condemned To The Gallows” initially appears to open the record with a similarly proggy, Pink Floyd/Steven Wilson-esque quiet, atmospheric introduction that we heard on Parallax II and Coma Ecliptic. However, the track nimbly evolves into a number that is at times haunting, heavy, and even anthemic, with natural ebbs and flows. This progression from soft to heavy and then to a triumphant climax recurs in some of the other tracks on Automata I.
Though I earlier called the record concise, three songs of the six here still run between six and eleven minutes in length. I found the variety in pacing refreshing and well-utilized. “Millions” manages to introduce possibly my favourite BTBAM hook in under five minutes, while closer “Blot” uses its nearly eleven minute length to explore tribal soundscapes, catchy riffs and Tommy Rogers’ dynamic vocal performance.
It is challenging to review a record when you only get to hear half of it – Automata I is a catchy, somewhat triumphant sounding 50% of an album that will be concluded later this year. Thus, it is difficult to comment on the album’s concept, or the trends that will emerge after hearing the pieces together. As it stands however, Automata I is a solid and consistent start to a record, but seems to have less standout moments and technicality than I’ve come to expect from the band.
Personal Score: 8/10
Average Score: 8/10
Notable Tracks: “Yellow Eyes”; “Millions”; “Blot”
FFO: Between The Buried And Me, you know how they sound!