July is “Part Two” month for me, and first up is the second half of Between the Buried and Me’s double album, Automata. Take a moment, if you will, to reacquaint yourself with the first half of this opus. Too lazy to click: Well, to summarize, BTBAM wrote their usual long album, but new record label Sumerian suggested they split it in half and stagger the release. That allows those folks who can’t stomach an hour of music to take it in smaller bursts. And the music? A step up from Coma Ecliptic, with solid songwriting and rare forays into self-indulgence. In short, a Very Good release, but one that felt incomplete. Okay, now let’s get down to business and figure out what’s up with Automata Part II.
First off, this second album is even shorter than the first: four songs and 33 minutes in total, more like an EP, but certainly much easier to digest than what otherwise could have been a 70-minute wank extravaganza. The first thing you notice is how Part II really gets down to business: there aren’t any brief digital interludes such as “Gold Distance” here, just some great prog metal songs. And it starts with “The Proverbial Bellow,” which at 13 minutes is the longest song between the two Parts. After a couple minutes of progressive histrionics, Rogers takes over with a sinuous keyboard line and hushed vocals, and the band comes in with a laid-back groove before leaping back into what almost sounds like traditional prog metal in the vein of old (read: good) Dream Theater, but with Rogers’ harsh/clean vocal mix. There’s also a splash of Discipline-era King Crimson in the middle, the use of which I will never disparage. Overall a spectacular song.
“Glide” isn’t really a song on its own, but rather the intro to “Voice of Trespass,” which combined form a technically insane song that Diablo Swing Orchestra would be proud to write. Together they form ten minutes of swingy cabaret-like insanity, and it’s completely enjoyable. It’s the kind of chaos BTBAM thrive on, but here it all makes sense, with a horn section blasting away, rhythm section swinging fervently, and Tommy Rogers going off with some excellent vocal work. “Glide/Voice of Trespass” is a glorious mess. And album closer “The Grid” is another fantastic cut, with an epic feel appropriate to the final song of Automata, equal parts aggression, precision, and a singalong chorus of “we are in this together” that serves to tie the album’s concept up nicely – oh yeah, remember, this is also a concept album about a person’s dreams being broadcast to the masses.
So how about when the two Parts are played together? Does it make sense? Is it better or worse? And what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Of course it all makes sense, since both parts were written as a single record, and only split apart after the fact. The songs do get longer as the record moves along, but the later song lengths are no detriment to our enjoyment. In fact, this is a back-loaded album, starting with “Blot,” which ended Part I, and moving right into all of Part II. That makes 45 minutes of excellent music, and while the first half of Automata is solid in its own right, the second half really outshines it. If we rounded up here, Automata would be a 4, but we aren’t overrating bastards1.
On Automata Part II there are no weak points. The 33 minutes presented here showcase all the strengths of Between the Buried and Me in stunning fashion. As a standalone release, the record serves as a stellar example of modern progressive metal (if a little short). When taken as a whole, Automata stands a good chance of a lofty position on most year-end prog metal lists, and the spot will have been well-earned.