ALBUM REVIEW: Between The Buried And Me – Automata I
Photo Credit: Randy Edwards
Art is all about experimentation and imagination. Metal music should now be different, and this is an ethos that has been used by progressive metal band Between The Buried And Me from the very outset of their career in 2000. The band have pushed themselves into unfamiliar territory on every one of their previous studio albums and have continued to throw the script out of the window to great effect; their previous release Coma Ecliptic reached #12 in the Billboard Top 200 list as well as receiving critical acclaim the world over. Between The Buried And Me have proved that their take on modern metal music is certainly working for them.
2018 sees BTBAM unveiling their latest grandiose project; the first half of their new two-part eighth studio album titled Automata I. This release sees vocalist Tommy Giles Rogers Jr, guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring, drummer Blake Richardson and bassist/keyboardist Dan Briggs expanding and evolving on their previous musical exploits, to create six new chapters in the first half of this concept album. The story follows a protagonist whose dreams are used as entertainment when broadcasted by a company named Voice Of Trespass, with a majority of the album taking place within a certain dream.
The album kicks off on a grand scale, with the opening track Condemned To The Gallows racking up almost seven minutes. The soft acoustic guitar accompanies the waves of keys to create a sense of grandeur and atmosphere for the vocal lines to rest upon. The song then picks up with a mid paced, heavily distorted guitar line that serves to create a wall of sound, rather than the complex and intricate riffs that have become common place for Between The Buried And Me. An electronic bassline leads the band in to far more familiar territory. Rough, throat shredding vocals and complicated drum beats, complete with the kind of blast beats that wouldn’t be out of place on the grimmest black metal albums, set the tone for the other half of BTBAM’s repertoire, heavy metal. These kind of effortless transitions highlight why BTBAM are such a successful band: not only have they managed to shift dynamics three times already throughout the first minute and a half of this track but they have done it seamlessly. The second half of the song contains some impressive guitar work including some pretty advanced riffs, intertwining harmonies and virtuoso solos that will certainly appease the guitar nerds amongst the audience. The rhythm section does what it has always done for this outfit and that is remain water tight, providing the much needed base for the other members of the band to work their weird and wonderful magic on top of.
Yellow Eyes comes out swinging punches from the very first note with a mixture of heavily distorted guitars, and the kind of midi-sounding synth parts that make you feel like you have just come face to face with the main boss at the end of a SNES game. The death metal roar of Rogers Jr sounds as a clear and crisp in the mix as ever and counteracts the melodic backing vocals perfectly to add a little harmony to the chaos (the backing vocals themselves sound somewhat similar to the late, great Layne Staley). The musicianship is as typically brilliant and explorative as ever, shifting between the heavy metallic elements and calm, clean passages effortlessly. The softer section in the middle of the track gives bassist Dan Briggs the opportunity to let his fingers wander around the fret board (which he is all too happy to do), throwing out a bassline that wouldn’t be out of place on a traditional jazz song. The vocal performance in the final third of the song is a testament to the advantage of a versatile frontman. The harsh, aggressive vocal lines are spat through gritted teeth whilst the clean, emotive hooks are delivered with the purpose of causing a mass sing along when the track eventually rears its head in a live scenario.
The album closer Blot clocks in at a whopping ten minutes and twenty-seven seconds. For most bands this would seem like a long and arduous undertaking that could see the listener being dragged through seemingly endless runs of guitar noodling and dull atmospheric breaks. This is not the case with Between The Buried And Me, who have long since mastered the art of making grand musical undertakings seem like rehearsal room jam sessions. The track opens with an impressive drum fill that accompanies the keys (which sound like they have a Middle Eastern influence) perfectly. The pace of the track picks up as the time passes the one minute mark, with the drum beat breaking in to a gallop and the lead guitar harmonising with the keys to create the kind of lead runs that Protest The Hero would be proud of. The frantic use of blast beats and intricate time signatures is set to whip spectators into frenzy, if the band ever adds it to their already sterling set lists (which we sincerely hope that they do). On the other side of this ferociously heavy part of the song the band revisit the clean section that introduced us to this chapter of the story. As Blot continues we see the band switching between the maniacally heavy and beautifully serene sections with the kind of ease and comfort that they have displayed over the course of their entire career, and in doing so continue to prove that they are more than capable of grabbing the attention of the listener and refusing to let go for prolonged periods of time within the same track (which is no small feat when you consider the average attention span in this day and age can be measured in mere seconds).
All in all we would say that this album is a tremendous success and sets the scene wonderfully for the second instalment of the story. We are consistently shown throughout the six chapters of this album that Between The Buried And Me are still sitting comfortably at the top of the progressive metal pile, and are the band that have truly set the bar for the sub-genre.
Younger bands should take notice and learn from the masters.
Standout Track: Yellow Eyes
For Fans Of: Sikth, Opeth, Protest The Hero
Written by: Richard Webb