Release Date: 13th July 2018
Label: Sumerian Records
Genre: Progressive Metal
North Carolina progressive outfit Between The Buried And Me have been reigning in the genre for a little over a decade now, since the release of 2007’s Colors — which has since been regarded by many as one of the best prog metal, and indeed metal, albums of the 21st century. Their style is one of the most eclectic I’ve ever heard, personally, absorbing elements of death metal, metalcore, tech, math, electronica, ambient and even polka; oh yes, BTBAM are no stranger to the accordion, best believe.
In 2018, the band endevoured into ground they had already covered back in 2011; the two-parted release. However, whilst The Parallax was compiled of an EP and a full length, this year’s Automata is two full-lengths, baby (i.e. 30 minutes, whoops), looking at the concept of viewing others’ dreams for entertainment. Regardless of this, Automata I, released back in March, was a brutal beast, with some of the heaviest stuff I’ve heard from the band, intercut with moments of ambient bliss. Its follow-up, the album we’re covering today, has, despite being only four tracks long (3/4 of them over 6 minutes, mind), a trovesful more character and is my favourite of the two.
We open on “The Proverbial Below”, possibly the definition of what I know as prog metal, dunno about you. This is a fitting opener, too, as it bridges the sonic gap between the two albums, with its multifaceted structure and dense layering of sounds. The guitar harmonies on the riff echo are Dragonforce (haha I just compared these guys to Dragonforce, I’ll get me coat) in nature but differ from that band because they’re not so power metal it hurts. They wind and dart about the place like an eel on meth: and that’s just the first two minutes. The remaining 10 minutes could be split into an album’s worth of songs, with frontman Tommy Giles Rogers Jr.’s all-encompassing singing style and the fill-heavy drumming being the only constants.
These seem to be two defining characteristics of this current era of BTBAM. Blake Richardson makes no secrets in his drumming, as every second is filled with some kind of percussion, usually shifting every 8 bars to some completely anti-rhythmic pattern. This is also true of the multi-layered vocals, that come from every conceivable opening in the mix with chants and whispers that adorn the main line. Rogers Jr. explores his range fully, with clean singing, death growls and even a demented ringmaster making an appearance.
This is especially true of “Voice of Trespass”, which explodes after slow accordion ballad “Glide”. One of my favourite metal tracks of the year, the leering horns that soar over the main riff in the intro will have you headbanging quicker than anything else in 2018’s catalogue. The aforementioned ringmaster persona Rogers Jr. takes in this track is furiously entertaining, fitting the disorienting and surreal atmosphere of the song brilliantly. The second half of the song we have the most technical breakdown on the album, with a small section of time signature fuckery followed by the chunkiest guitars, as those horns creep ’round the bend once again. I’ve only gone into a smidgen of detail about what could be written about this track, it’s just mad as an absolute hatter.
The album closes with “Grid”, a song that, I think, encompasses all the sounds of Automata within its 9+ minute runtime. There’s synths, clean, almost angelic, melodies, odd time signatures, razorblade guitars and bellows from Hell — it’s a pick n’ mix of prog metal’s finest. It also provides the double-album with a kind of cyclical structure, which lets the concept of the album flow really well. The more electronic aspects of the album also bring that dream-like surreality to life in a big way.
Overall, “Automata II”, the ninth album from Between The Buried And Me, the second half of a set, is easily one of my favourite metal releases of the year. The heavy elements are here in spades, with the relentless, ever-shifting drumming and guitar parts, and a mix denser than heavily-packed Christmas cake. However, this is intercut with genre-spanning influences that make this one of BTBAM’s most eclectic releases yet.
Gooduns’: Voice of Trespass, The Proverbial Below
For fans of: Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, August Burns Red