Here we are, 4 months after Between the Buried & Me unleashed the first half of their latest conceptual work, Automata, and we now have the second half of that release upon us. Appropriate timing too, considering this came around their headlining stint on this year’s Summer Slaughter tour. If you want to get caught up, you can catch my review here, but as a quick refresher: the first half of Automata laid some pretty damn solid groundwork for the project as a whole. It provided a pretty balanced mix of older Colors/The Great Misdirect-style metalcore motifs with some of the more prog-oriented musical stylings of their last couple of releases. There was quite a lot to enjoy about it, and I was pretty curious as to where things would ultimately end up, especially considering the somewhat off-kilter nature of the concept.
Given that Automata I closed out with the monstrous 10-minute track “Blot,” it’s should be no surprise that Automata II opens up with an even longer 13-minute track in the form of “The Proverbial Bellow.” The song gets started right away, continuing the Colors-style mixing of grooving drums and melodic guitar interplay with a somewhat upbeat vibe to it, almost calling to mind previous tracks like “Prequel to the Sequel.” There’s also definitely more of a proggier bent to things, considering how the synthesizer work incorporated works to accentuate the guitar chord strikes in the song’s heavier passages, and there are some hard-hitting passages in this song, including some aggressive blastbeating on the drums that’s contrasted almost immediately against a more soft extended bridge. A repeated rhythmically off-kilter piano line leads to dreamy atmospheric synth leads and vocal melodies, made more haunting by the actual lyrical content:
“Please pick up the phone
It’s been ringing for years now
I’m so alone here.”
The song paints a significantly more vivid picture of the scenario at play here than in the first half, really showing the protagonist being taken advantage of by mysterious forces, being turned into spectacle for an audience, and experiencing a strange sense of bliss in these dreamscapes.
A brief interlude comes in the form of “Glide,” painting an image of a romantic encounter, soundtracked by bagpipes, light drumming, and clean proggy vocals. It creates a momentary reprieve, which is immediately broken by “Voice of Trespass.” This track is a wild beast of a song, repeating a fast and furious shuffling swing vibe in the drum work and guitars, accentuated by a great dealing of blaring trumpet lines. These big band swinging metalcore passages in the first half are broken up by the verses using equally shuffling piano and finger-snapping breaks with Tommy Rogers’ sinister snarky vocals, belting from the perspective of the company responsible for placing our protagonist in this state. It is one of the most frantic and menacing pieces of music the band has ever written, and while the song does eventually settle into a back half that’s more traditionally heavy in the vain of Alaska, there’s still some solid use of xylophones and horns in there. The closing moments get particularly dramatic, with the clanging steel locked into the ride hits, and the closing lyrics “We Are hollow… condemned to the gallows” painting a picture of tragedy that offsets the nuttiness of earlier.
The album closes out on “The Grid,” a 10-minute track that emphasizes the dream aspect of the music/lyrical concept most explicitly. The synth work on the song emphasizes a much more hazy vibe as it drifts on overtop the rest of the music, blending with the swirling guitar melodies as the song proceeds with a steady 6/8 groove that drives home the dreaminess of everything. The song contrasts this with the groovier chugging passages that take up about half the song, with the rest staying in cleaner territory. The vocals get coated in warbled effects that, when paired against the drifting synths and bass-heavy bleeps and blips, it creates an impression of the dreamscape dissolving as the melodies just drift on. It provides an appropriately somber closer to the album, as the lyrics create the uncomfortable image of our protagonist getting sealed into the machine that broadcasts his dreams to the public.
The album is these 4 tracks at about 33 minutes total, and as a closer to this project, it works pretty well. It carries many of the elements established in Automata I, such as the more groove-heavy metalcore riffs and drum work, the computerized synths and the atmosphere they create, and it definitely expands on the more off-kilter creative tangents the band is known for. “Voice of Trespass” alone is easily the strongest track in the release on pure musical terms because of how over-the-top it is, but the rest of the album(s) come together well and unite the two halves into a cohesive picture. Automata II does a better job of expanding on the concept of the album than part 1 does while also complimenting it. In retrospect, Automata I focuses primarily on the struggles of the protagonist, while Automata II focuses in more on the ominous forces that put him in this mess in the first place.
With all that said, as a die-hard BTBAM fan… I don’t think this needed to be two albums at all. This half of the record is about the same length as The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, give or take 3 minutes, but at least that served as a prologue to a mammoth 70+ minute musical experience with Future Sequence. The total run time of these albums is just over an hour of music, and while it’s all great to listen to, the release strategy feels unnecessary given the big picture of everything. With all that said, now that the full picture is in scope, Automata proves itself to be another great addition to the BTBAM catalog that stands up with some of their best like The Great Misdirect. This comes as another recommended listen from these guys.
Final Verdict: Buy it. This rating is for the project as a whole, and it’s some more enjoyable prog metal from a titan of the genre.
Automata II is available from Sumerian Records on CD, vinyl, digital download, and streaming services.