Cliffhanger of soap opera proportions
What more can really be said about Between the Buried and Me? The North Carolina progressive death metal band have taken some expansive leaps throughout their 16-year career so far; their songs formerly presented in short, bursting packages now espoused in sweeping near-operatic works. They’ve been no strangers to the concept album and it’s an endeavor they seem to have a good handle on; so, when the ideas behind Automata were first revealed, fans knew to expect something of a real treat. BtBaM is not necessarily ones to recycle material or live in stale creation, but Automata does have some familiarities about it. It holds some of the thematic foundations as Coma Ecliptic and very light audible resemblances to Colors, Alaska and The Silent Circus, but for the most part, Automata stands on its own. And this isn’t even the end of it.
Between the Buried and Me are releasing Automata in two parts, the latter half scheduled to come out sometime in June. This could be somewhat problematic for those that really enjoy the first half, since waiting is always the hardest part. At only 35 minutes long, Automata I is quickly enthralling, the story of the album quickly revealing itself as being centered around dreams, as was Coma Ecliptic. But this album veers into a different storyline than Coma, wherein an entire world exists where one’s unconscious thoughts and dreams become broadcasted entertainment for the masses and to add to it, the “dreamer” is the only one that doesn’t know that none of it is real. Think Truman Show meets Black Mirror, transformed into progressive riffs.
And that’s exactly what Automata is. “Condemned to the Gallows” introduces this heavy plotline through darkly hefty guitars and emotive play between keyboards and drums. As vocalist Tommy Rogers sings “Ice cold realization of the silent win / Slowly drags me up into a splintered reason / Emptiness engulf me,” the story has officially begun.
“House Organ” brings about a psychedelic-electronic air, staying at a pretty mid-tempo pace that allows for Rogers’ harmonies to really shine through. Though much harder, faster and brute than Coma Ecliptic, Automata manages to exude heaviness even in its lighter moments. “Yellow Eyes” starts out with a crisp hostility in its instrumentation before it transitions into a much lighter, bass line driven sensibility. This airiness carries through “Millions” and very ambiently into before reaching the album’s opus and cutoff, “Blot.” As the longest track on the album, it covers a lot of territories sonically, from rich rhythms and pacing drumming to atmospheric and spacey production. Unfortunately, “Blot” obviously ends before its found out what happens to our main dreamer character and without spoiling it, cuts the story off at a cliffhanger.
Resolution with the story, as well as sonically, won’t come until Automata II comes out, making for anxious awaiting. Tommy Rogers has stated that lyrically, everything ends on a positive note. And for those who are upset with the waiting game, surely nothing but positive feelings can come from hearing the second half. Automata I, whether you consider yourself a BtBaM fan or not, is over a captivating record and hopefully, its second half will be much of the same.