Courtesy: Sumerian Records
Progressive metal outfit Between The Buried and Me has, over the course of almost two decades, entertained audiences the world over with its unique brand of music, building its fan base along the way largely on its own terms and without major mainstream support. Given, the band was signed most recently to Metal Blade Records, which has become a major label in its own right, but only for hard rock and metal. To that end it can be argued, again, that BTBAM has largely built its success while staying just under that mainstream radar. That success continues this year with the band’s latest album, Automata I, released March 9 via independent label Sumerian Records. This record, the band’s ninth, can be said to be a success in part because of its concept. This will be discussed shortly. The songs used to tell the record’s story also play into its success. They will be discussed later. The record’s production values round out its most important elements. Each piece of the whole is important in its own way. All things considered, they make Automata I another welcome return for BTBAM and one more of this year’s top new hard rock and metal albums.
Automata I, the first half of BTBAM’s new double album Automata, is one of this year’s top new hard rock and metal albums. That is due in no small part to the concept at the center of the album. The concept here contemplates what would happen if one’s dreams could be broadcast to the world for the sake of entertainment. It’s not such an out there concept considering all the people creating their own YouTube channels that they use to broadcast their personal feelings to the world, a world of strangers both good and — sadly — bad. Of course that seemingly was not what the band intended to convey here. Rather the band was examining what would happen if one’s literal dreams, those thoughts that rise in our sleep, could be broadcast for entertainment. This in itself is the starting point for plenty of discussions, not the least of which is why would anyone want to delve so deeply into someone’s personal life? Has mankind really become that desperate for drama, conflict and attention that one would even consider finding a way to do that? What would be the ramifications of going such a route? Simply put, this is a deep concept, and an original one at that, especially for a concept album. If for no reason other than for taking in this concept, audiences will want to hear this record. This is not the first concept album from BTBAM, and definitely not the least of those albums, either. As a matter of fact, it’s a concept that is just as interesting as those presented in the band’s previous concept efforts — The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012), Coma Ecliptic (2015) — and is certain to keep listeners well engaged in its own right. Of course as much depth as this concept adds to the record’s overall presentation, it is only one part of what makes Automata I another interesting new effort from BTBAM. The songs that make up the body of the record do their own part to make the album worth the listen.
Automata I is made up of only six songs. Again, this is nothing new for this North Carolina-based prog metal outfit. The songs’ musical and lyrical content combine expertly to make this record all the deeper. In regards to the musical aspect of the songs, the band — Tommy Giles Rogers, Jr. (vocals,keyboards), Paul Waggoner (lead a& rhythm guitar), Dustie Waring (lead & rhythm guitar), Blake Richardson (drums) and Dan Briggs (bass, keyboards) — has once again evolved from its previous records, giving audiences something new yet again. Case in point, the album’s opener, ‘Condemned to the Gallows.’ This song starts off very softly, but gradually builds on itself as it progresses, going from that softness to a solid wall of sound about forty-six seconds in. The addition of Rogers’ vocals and Richardson’s blast beats almost two minutes into the song builds up the song’s arrangement even more. The arrangement closes out ominously in order to build into the album’s second song, ‘House Organ,’ which displays just as much diversity as anything that the band has ever created. It does so without just rehashing any of its previous works, too. It has those heavy moments, and also has some more somewhat contemplative, keyboard-driven moments that, when coupled with Rogers’ vocal delivery, conjure thoughts of Dream Theater. The musical interest doesn’t stop there. The band reaches into a variety of realms in the arrangement of ‘Yellow Eyes’ all while Rogers’ black metal style vocal delivery sits atop the whole thing. As if all of that isn’t enough, ‘Millions’ boasts an arrangement that seems to cross 80s hair metal with, again, a seeming Dream Theater influence circa Awake. ‘Gold Distance,’ the record’s penultimate track conjures thoughts of the soundtrack to Disney’s Tron: Legacy, and at barely more than a minute, it is a nice momentary break for listeners. ‘Blot,’ which closes out the album takes listeners on just as incredible of a sonic ride as its predecessors. That ride is a solid finishing point, musically, to this half of Automata. Needless to say it definitely leaves listeners anxious to hear what the second half of the album will sound like this June when it is released. Of course, the album’s musical arrangements are only one part of what makes the songs so important to the album’s presentation. Their lyrical content is just as important as their musical content.
The lyrical content presented throughout the course of Automata I is just as deep as that of any of the band’s previous records (both concept and standard). As Rogers noted in a recent interview, “Lyrically, I wanted to write something that I treated as a puzzle until it comes together at the end. For as deep and dark as it is, there’s a positive outcome, which we’ve never had.” He goes on to explain the story centering on a man whose dreams are being used as entertainment for the masses and the album’s central figure thinking everything happening is real, when it isn’t. The journey does in fact start very dark in ‘Condemned to the Gallows,’ with the song’s subject in…well…a very dark situation. He sings here, “Gripping the brightest grid/A surgical drive to increase the noise/ice cold realization of the silent wind/slowly drags me up into a splintered reason/Emptiness engulf me.” He goes on to sing, “Align the love inside me/let misery awake me/Search low/Abandoned/The creaking floors cry out below/A limping glimpse of next steps/The fog showers the last light of day.” The story’s main character sees his descent continue from here, with his emotional and psychological state seeming to get worse with each song. That is especially obvious by the time the album reaches its closer, ‘Blot.’ The subject sings here, “All my pockets are full and my mind is lost/Circulate/The rear view keeps shifting as I stare at the sun…this is the beginning of my new life/I hope you enjoy the show/It’s for you, ya know?/To watch you from across the room/To hear you through the tangled lines/It completes me/I’ve been waiting.” It is a dark but so powerful moment in this story, and one more example of why the album’s lyrical content is just as important as its musical content, and why both of those elements are just as important as the story itself to this record. The album’s songs, as important as they are to its whole, are not the last of its most important elements. Its production is important, too.
The production work put in on BTBAM’s new album is key to its presentation because of how much is going on within each song. The album’s opener is proof of that importance. The way in which the song builds from its soft opening to the controlled chaos of its main body keeps everything in full balance. That says a lot considering how easy it would have been for the song to get bogged down in itself musically with so much going on. Much the same could be said of ‘House Organ.’ it starts out in full, controlled death metal chaos before eventually calming into a more Spock’s Beard-esque prog-rock sound as it progresses. All the way on to the album’s end, the attention put into each line brings out the album’s best, with the result being a fully immersive listening experience that will keep every listener engaged. Keeping this in mind, the expert production work on this album is its finishing touch. When it is joined with the depth of the songs that make up the record and the story itself, the whole of the album becomes a work that will appeal to every BTBAM fan just as much as it will to prog metal(and even metal) fan — a record that is in itself one of this year’s top new albums and that likely with its forthcoming companion, one of the year’s top new albums overall.
Automata I, the first half of BTBAM’s new album Automata, is in itself another solid new entry from the veteran progressive metal outfit. That is made obvious first and foremost through the story presented in this half of the album. The story presented here follows its subject as he descends into sleep and starts his dreaming. The songs used to tell that portion of the story do plenty to keep listeners engaged. The production at the center of those songs allows each member of the band to be highlighted, keeping any song from getting muddied down in themselves. Each element is important in its own right to the whole of Automata I. All things considered, they make this first half of Automata an entry that the band’s longtime fans will appreciate just as much as prog metal (and metal) fans. It is available now in stores and online. The band is currently touring in support of Auotmata I. It will be in Pittsburgh, PA tomorrow, Mach 30 to kick off the weekend before moving on to Philadelphia on Saturday and then to Albany, New York on Monday. More tour dates are listed online along with all of the band’s latest news and more information on Automata at:
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