We here at Angry Metal Guy have a fraught relationship with Between the Buried and Me. Some of us — we’ll call these apes Team Kronos —despise their lack of cohesion, and their penchant for piling myriad ideas into each “song,” while others — we’ll call these clowns Team Fisting — love the insane technicality and complex “arrangements.” I consider myself mostly on the fence but leaning somewhat towards Team Kronos. At times BTBAM blow my mind, but at many other times, I just sit there with a blank look of confusion on my face, wondering why all five guys insist on playing different songs at the same time.
So here we have the next installment in The Battle for AMG Respectability – Automata. To be different, this time around BTBAM have split their album in half. Part I released this month, while Part II is slated for June. Odd, considering the two parts together are about the same length as Coma Ecliptic. What Tommy Giles Rogers, Jr. says, though, is that with so many new releases every week, bands fade out quickly, and he wants BTBAM to remain in the spotlight, thus the staggered release gimmick1. Will it be easier to digest? Will this concept album, about a person’s dreams being broadcast as entertainment, hold together when we only hear half of it?
“Condemned to the Gallows” gets things off briskly. After a brief acoustic intro, the band kicks into a furious gear, with tech-death verses blasting forth. The arrangement here is excellent and, yes, cohesive. In other words, we’ve got a song that holds itself together for an entire six and a half minutes, all while brimming with aggression and technicality. “House Organ” continues the extreme metal approach with almost four minutes of panic, while “Millions” is completely different: a five-minute song that plays it possibly as straight as BTBAM ever have far as melody goes. It’s a changeup pitch in the middle of the record, and it’s a perfect respite from the more extreme chaos surrounding it.
The two longest songs, “Yellow Eyes” and “Blot,” aim to push the band’s progressive boundaries. One succeeds and one fails. “Yellow Eyes” is nine minutes of technical insanity loaded with left turns and is the exact attempt at a song that Team Kronos will point to as evidence for their theorem. If you aren’t Mr. Bungle, don’t try to get this carried away. However, it’s the outlier on Automata I rather than the standard. “Blot” is how it goes when the band writes with both complexity and unity. Where “Yellow Eyes” wanders incoherently amidst the maze of progressive technicality, “Blot” features plenty of musical elements (including East Indian) that all tie together. It’s the longest song on Automata I and it kicks ass. Sadly, despite hammering us for over ten minutes, the song and thus the album ends abruptly. We clearly need Part II to finish this off.
It’s hard to judge half an album, which is what Between the Buried and Me have given us here, but judge we must, and aside from the tiresome “Yellow Eyes” the band delivers an excellent modern progressive metal record. For the most part, the songwriting is superior to Coma Ecliptic, the sound is as pristine as fans of the band expect, and the concept is cleverly and clearly conveyed. Rogers does a great job vocally and the band is on point throughout, deftly balancing technicality and diversity with melody and arrangements. In short, Automata I is a thoroughly enjoyable album. And who knows, once we hear the back half in June this score might go up.