Review Summary: Stylistically polished and musically fresh, Automata I is yet another winner from Between the Buried and Me.
It’s interesting to hear a band like Between the Buried and Me eight albums into their career. Not only are they supremely talented at their craft and continuously challenging genre boundaries with each subsequent album, but they’re also experienced enough as musicians to learn from their mistakes. Their sound – essentially melding every style of music known to man – has matured nicely since Colors
, and oddly enough, not much has changed. Sure, there are no more jarring polka transitions or meandering blues jams, but the eclectic metalcore and ‘70s prog influence remain as their sonic foundation. BtBaM have been around the block a few times by now, so to speak, and this sounds like them finally settling down into a cozy, psychedelic studio apartment.
Everything that was wrong with Coma Ecliptic
has been righted on Automata I
. At a mere 35 minutes, it’s an easily digestible listen and never has the chance to get boring. The bass is raised in the mix, the song lengths are shorter, the riffs are crunchier, the grooves are tighter, and the vocals are more dynamic. Make no mistake: the band still hops through various key signatures and time signatures like they’re sampling flavors of ice cream, but now it feels like there’s a purpose to it. Themes are introduced, developed, and resolved over the course of the album; subtle motifs are revisited and expounded on, rewarding multiple listens. The song structures aren’t nearly as scatterbrained as they used to be, while still keeping things moving enough to appeal to fans of the band’s A.D.D. songwriting approach.
The most drastic improvement from previous releases is the utilization of frontman Tommy Rogers. His synth work, which was front and center on Coma Ecliptic
, has been tastefully subdued in favor of vocal variety. Automata I
features far and away Rogers’ most versatile vocal performance since 2005’s Alaska
. He uses his signature mid-range screams and tender crooning, in addition to howling falsetto jabs, guttural growls, and half-yelled, effects-laden passages that help ease the transitions from his harsh to clean vocals and vice versa. These varying styles are often layered on top of each other for dramatic flair without coming across as too cluttered or flamboyant. “Yellow Eyes” is the best example of this, musically ranging from Devin Townsend
worship to mellow jazz fusion to syncopated death metal riffage with Tommy’s vocals seamlessly morphing into whatever best suits the song. The melodies themselves are on point as well, most notably during the ethereal 5/4 groove in “Millions” and the gleefully euphoric chorus of “Blot”.
Rhythmically, the band has never sounded tighter. They’ve come a long way from throwing random ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Mind you, these haphazard tendencies do rear their ugly head from time to time. A number of riffs are purely transitional and unable to function as enjoyable standalone sections, and some off-kilter vocal melodies may leave you scratching your head. Also, the album just… ends. It’s reasonable to assume that the final seconds of “Blot” lead into whatever opens Part II, but as it is, it’s an abrupt and anticlimactic finish to an otherwise engrossing and epic track.
Nevertheless, Automata I
is a step in the right direction for BtBaM. It sits in the much-revered sweet spot bridging their flowery progressive antics and technical metalcore roots with no shortage of fresh, new musical ideas. As far as modern prog metal goes, Automata I
is a healthy reminder why BtBaM is head and shoulders above most of the competition. Part II can’t come soon enough.