Ever since their inception at the start of the millennia, Between The Buried And Me have often been hailed as one of the dominant leaders of the prog metal scene. Of course, with such critically acclaimed offerings such as Colors, The Great Misdirect and The Parralax series, it’s transparent to see why. However, whilst the vast majority of their discography has been widely saluted as pretty much flawless, their 2015 release, Coma Epileptic, caused a bit of a stir within the fanbase. Whilst the release was welcomed with acclaim and applause from professional journalists and writers, the response from the fanbase was varied. Whilst some stated it as some of the group’s best work, others were far more dismissive of the focus on more spacey and dreamlike atmospherics. It was the first time a release from this act caused controversy and divided opinions within their typically doted and loyal following, and many were worried what the future awaited for them. With this record, Automata I, there appears to be a conscious effort to stray away from the elements within that release that made that record so dismissive to those pursuing a more metal experience.
In true vein to the band’s approach to song writing and to, well, the stereotypical perception of prog metal, Automata I is the first half of a double concept album revolving around traditional sci-fi tropes. For this instalment, the group document a narrative revolving around an individual’s dreams being unwillingly captured and used as a form of entertainment for others. We won’t go into details here but It’s all very convoluted and intricate; it feels like the end result if Dream Theater wrote a Black Mirror episode.
But yet, like all good conscious concept albums, prior acknowledgement of the narrative is not required to enjoy the release to it’s maximum potential. Whilst the general conscious is that Coma Elliptic dawdled too long on exploring more dream like and spacey structures, the predominate focus here is on providing more menacing, foreboding mechanisations.
Album opener and lead single ‘Condemned To The Gallows’ establishes this more darker aura, with its introspective acoustic intro slamming right into a synth and distortion tinged beast of a track featuring sprawling, evolving and unpredictable rhythms and structures. It’s an intense, claustrophobic assault that sets the overall tone for the record, one of despondency and fright. Automata I revels in drawing the listener in with spiralling and blissful moments of daydream prior to slamming you right back into an unpredictable nightmare. It’s effective, and perfectly underlines and resonates the underlying narrative featured within this release.
Throughout this record the group have somewhat retained their established and much loved level of metal orientated experimentation with this album. Whilst there may not be any of the polka or jazz-oriented sections such as those found within their mid noughties offerings, there’s many a moment when the group sway and wander from the established prog metal path.
Much like their 2015 release, the usage of synths plays a pivotal role here. The blissful melodies of ‘Millions’ utilize expanding and metamorphosing synths to create a sense of bedazzlement that soon turns into disillusion and disorientation and the 10 minute album closer ‘Blot’ features structures composed of middle eastern strings. There’s the occasional moment when the band tease at divulging into more experimental creative freedoms, but each moment only serves as brief moments of release before the album relapses into sheer prog metal aggression.
The most surprising moment of this record is the second track to be found here, ‘House Organ’. Clocking in at just under four minutes, it’s certainly a far cry from the prolonged labyrinthine tracks the band are traditionally known for. Despite this, this track perfectly resonates the full BTBAM experience. Kicking off with an industrial section, the track swings from aggressive sensibilities before pondering more creatively sombre moments accompanied with keys and tender vocals. It certainly feels like one of their sprawling and extensive tracks compacted into a shorter, more accessible offering.
In all, whilst Between The Buried And Me aren’t breaking any new ground or reinventing their sound with this release, it’s a return to their more heavier and socially abrasive roots. Whilst those seeking a more expansive and varied experience may be left a little unfulfilled, it’s bound to strike a chord with fans wanting a more abusive and familiar sound. Either way, it’s going to be interesting in what the group present with Automata II.