Between The Buried And Me – ‘Automata I’ (Album Review)

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After almost two decades in the game, Between The Buried And Me refuse to stop pushing their own boundaries. Since day one, BTBAM have consistently evolved while birthing multiple progressive masterworks. Alaska was one of the first albums that got me into structurally advanced music; Colors was…well…Colors, for fuck’s sake; and 2012’s Parallax II cemented BTBAM’s status as a new generation’s equivalent of Pink Floyd and Dream Theater.

Those are personal highlights from a career now spanning eight studio albums, a near-album-length EP, a few awesome live releases, and The Anatomy Of – a selection of BTBAM covers bettered only by their own recent version of Bohemian Rhapsody. As a double concept album set to be released in two parts, Automata is technically a work in progress, at least as far as BTBAM fans are concerned. Still, on the evidence presented throughout Automata I, we may well be looking at BTBAM’s all-time career-defining achievement.

“If you try to analyse it in real time, it will fuck you up”

Long-time listeners will naturally be familiar with all the signature elements that make BTBAM BTBAM – and as you’d expect, they’re all present and correct on Automata I. In terms of chords and harmony alone, Between The Buried And Me are immediately recognizable, to say nothing of their terrifyingly complex prog-hardcore riffs, Tommy Rogers’ peerless vocal work, those OTT arpeggiated guitar lines, and Dan Briggs’ all-round low-end mastery. BTBAM’s music has always felt constructed, designed and put together by virtuosic architects capable of creating invisible and improbable structures.

This is music you can appreciate intellectually – but especially on first listen, it’s completely overwhelming. Automata is no different. If you try to analyse it in real time, it will fuck you up.

Behind the music, Automata tells the socially-conscious story of a person whose dreams are broadcast to the public for their entertainment. The plot criticizes modern celebrity culture and its commodification of notable human beings – and the music reflects this message effectively. BTBAM effortlessly convey confusion, frustration, struggle, and disorder – even as, as mentioned earlier, you get the clear impression that every moment has been painstakingly designed and executed.

Musically, Automata is a tough one to break down. A blow-by-blow account would be as monumentally tedious as listening to the album itself is not – but that said, if you were to list all of Automata’s components you’d find a few subtle Easter-egg-like touches that, though brief, are sick. For me, spotting some SikTh-esque vocals and guitar tones reminiscent of Periphery’s Juggernaut track The Scourge within the epic Yellow Eyes proved ear-opening, and the whole of fourth track Millions stands out from almost everything else BTBAM have ever done. Melodic, accessible, and home to a tiny bit of Joe Satriani-style lead guitar, Millions makes me wonder what BTBAM would sound like if they really pushed in a more commercially-oriented direction.

The backlash would likely be ridiculously harsh, but still…what if?

Overall, Automata I is not an album you can judge properly without hearing its twin – but as a musical journey it works perfectly. The sense of storytelling and narrative progression is obvious, and it all ends on a musical cliffhanger sure to leave listeners impatiently craving Automata II. This is above all else an appropriately forward-thinking experiment – and when it’s over and the two parts become one, I’ve no doubt that it will be hailed as a success.

LTK RATING: 93% (Essential Listening!)

Automata I drops March 9; pre-order it on iTunes here.

Follow Leon TK on Twitter here.

Posted on 27 February 2018

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