Album Review: Between the Buried and Me’s Automata is No Glitch in the Matrix
There are few things in the metal world that should excite you as much as a new album from Between the Buried and Me. Given the band’s talent and previous accomplishments, they could release an album made up entirely of an accordion and a potato and the metal community would be forced to take it seriously. Fortunately, there are no vegetables on Automata, the first half of a double album (the second half is tentatively scheduled for release in June).
Where to even start with this Automata? Listeners will no doubt notice immediately that it is a much heavier record than the group’s previous offering, 2015’s Coma Ecliptic. Fans who didn’t appreciate the softer, more ethereal sounds of that album will feel right at home amongst the dark machinations of Automata.
This rediscovered sonic heaviness is appropriate, given the lyrical themes of Automata; although both albums deal with the subject of dreams, Automata takes a far different approach from its predecessor, imagining a world in which the innermost reaches of our unconscious minds are broadcast as entertainment for the general populace, without regard for the dreamers themselves. During these broadcasts, the dreamer is the only one who doesn’t know that what they’re going through isn’t real. Basically, it’s an episode of Black Mirror turned into a metal album. (Part I ends on nail-biting cliffhanger — I won’t spoil it — and frontman Tommy Rogers says Part II will have a positive ending, which might mean the main character of a BTBAM album will finally survive the story!)
Musically, BTBAM are already in outer space while every other metal band remains stuck on earth — and yet Automata finds the band somehow continuing to push themselves in new territory. These dudes have their instantly recognizable sound down, and they utilize elements from all of their albums to date here, from the Alaska-esque heaviness of “Condemned to the Gallows” to the splash of Colors audible in the album’s closer and crown jewel, “Blot” (which may very well represent BTBAM’s strongest work to date). And yet they also understand how to fuck around with that sound just enough to feel fresh and experimental (e.g., the use of what I can only refer to as ‘hardcore baseball organs’ on the song “Yellow Eyes”). Automata is also a perfect jumping-on spot for new fans, as it winds up being one of the band’s easiest-to-digest releases.
BTBAM are leagues ahead of their prog peers, but that doesn’t mean that Automata is perfect. Despite those rad hardcore baseball organs, “Yellow Eyes” never quite gels, while “Gold Distance” is a one-minute instrumental that feels like it should have just been a part of one the album’s other songs. And even with the awareness that Automata is a double feature, this first half may not quite sate fans’ appetites, seeing as it clocks in at a mere (“mere”) thirty-five minutes. Weird how what would be a perfectly normal running time for any normal band feels like it’s just not enough for BTBAM.
Still, this is an absolutely great record that is not to be passed up. Time and time again, Between the Buried and Me have proven that they are metal royalty. Automata – Part I is another amazing addition to the treasures of the crown. I can’t wait for Part II.
Between the Buried and Me’s Automata – Part I drops March 9 on Sumerian. You can check out the track “Condemned to the Gallows” below and pre-order the album here.