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The prog giants have an illustrious discography. How does the first part of their double album stack up?


Album Review: BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Automata I

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Since their debut self-titled record back in 2002, North Carolina's Between The Buried And Me has become one of the most innovative acts across all music. Their debut was a strong record of death metal proficiency. Yet, it was The Silent Circus, the band's second LP, where they would begin to evolve and experiment with their sound. Following those efforts, Between The Buried And Me continued to expand their musicianship—encompassing numerous musical styles and incorporating them alongside captivating lyrical concepts. From this, they have even been able to innovate their own work while maintaining their core identity for years. In fact, the band’s eighth studio album, Automata I, continues Between The Buried And Me’s terrific legacy of profound artistry.

The concept alone is remarkable: pulling similarities from such works as The Truman Show while taking a more modernized approach and weaving in elements that revolve around dreams. The lyrics offer a rich sense of storytelling as the listener bonds with the protagonist over each track. Guitarist Paul Waggoner has stated, “We never want to repeat ourselves. We’re always trying to do something different, and this album fell right into that sort of pattern. We push ourselves into new places while retaining our basic sound.”

This certainly supports the previous sentiment about Between The Buried And Me's progression in their musicianship while keeping a unique identity. Knowing this, Automata I borrows influences from some the band’s past records. Most noticeably, fans could hear material that harkens to Coma Ecliptic, The Great Misdirect, Alaska, and The Silent Circus.  And yet, while Automata I does have its influences, it also presents itself as a separate entity from the band's past work.

Album Review: BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Automata I

Automata I promises an exhilarating experience filled with wonder. The opening song, “Condemned to the Gallows”, is an outstanding way to begin. A thick guitar rhythm weaves in a radiant catchiness—thanks to blends of dark vibrancy—before entering the more hectic part of the song. Tommy Rogers' lines offer an enticing intro that births the lyrical concept. “Gripping the brightest grid / A Surgical drive to increase the noise / Ice cold realization of the silent win / Slowly drags me up into a splintered reason / Emptiness engulf me.” Keyboards curtail behind Blake Richardson's crushing drum beat. Rogers' vocals growl before shifting into his clean singing. The aura surrounding the track packs various emotions into the material—presenting a somber hysteria. This is thanks to a primary focus on brutality with minor, calming elements underneath. Rogers' keyboard maintains a gentle quality which later extends to Dustie Waring and Paul Waggoner's guitars.

The following track, “House Organ," presents a psychedelic wave from the guitars. and a mid-tempo beat from the drums. As the instrumentation roams about, a slight drop arrives and welcomes the vocals into the spotlight. Soon after, the instruments return to the forefront—bursting to let loose waves of mesmerizing tones. Richardson keeps to a smooth, upbeat flow of adrenaline-packed drums while Rogers' keyboards create a sense of calm in the listener. Wisps of electronic beats flutter throughout the composition, adding to the serenity. Towards the end of the track, these qualities intensify—never in a manner that’s extreme—but in a snowball effect that creates a comforting aura to gently shift into the next track.

“Yellow Eyes” brings an immediate aggression in its sharp, symphonic guitar sound. The drumming embraces a metallic tinge early on. The song then seamlessly transitions into a lighter section where the instrumentation eases up. Dan Briggs and his bass have more room to work and lay down some funky lines. From there, the structure ebbs and flows between sweeping moments of wild guitar and drum contortion to dipping into minimal, elegant sections that beam with calming tones. Towards the end, the two aforementioned styles mix and rather than offset one another; they work out quite well. This is thanks to a well-kept tempo and a balanced rhythm. The pace and various instrumentals are well placed within the composition—presenting a flow that is enthralling.

The band perfected their transitions throughout all their material—always providing a sense of surprise in each one of their records. Tracks contain a diverse array of style and sound that builds off the many musical inspirations Between The Buried And Me is passionate about. As a whole, the album presents this enchanting magic that grows as time progresses. On one level the record does this with the theatrical elements, each song expanding upon what comes next in the story. On another level, the ever-growing technicality of the music presents an additional component of fascination.

For example, the sonic ending of “Yellow Eyes” concludes in ambient whispers, perfectly leading into “Millions." The guitars pipe up, bringing back that sonic wail, radiating with hypnotic tones. The clean singing chants alongside the progression—emitting an aura of beauty. The instrumentation soon rises and brings a frenetic presence accompanied by screams. It is a structure that performs a unique tug-of-war with these two contrasting styles. The track then begins to embody both styles, creating this wondrous combination that makes one want to headbang and meditate. It’s a bizarre thing to pull off, but the delicate use of consistent tempos and well-crafted structure makes it possible. The band has always done a terrific job of this—taking ideas that may appear drastic on paper. Yet, when put into action, they offer grand moments of experimentation that are fascinating.

“Gold Distance” is a brief ambient track that appears before the record’s last song, “Blot," the album’s longest track. “Blot” begins with a mystic aura that creates a spellbinding progression. It soon ramps into high gear with heavy drum patterns and electric guitar rhythm. It’s the latter that does further exploration—slightly shifting tone while keeping to a high vibrancy that emits riveting adrenaline. There’s a whole lot of ground that the work covers. "Blot" goes from traditional elements of metal to minimal, atmospheric sections that whirl with serene, gentle whispers. Playing to these qualities allows the song to capture this immense weight of grandiosity.

As a reminder, this is only part one of two. Already Between The Buried And Me has presented an outstanding record in Automata I. They are one of a few bands of our time that can continuously craft magnificent music that evolves constantly. From an immense spread of instrumental technicality to a thought-provoking concept—all while tapping into the styles of past records—it's a unique entity. Automata I is an outstanding achievement within Between The Buried And Me's discography.

Score: 9/10

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