Concept albums are wonderful things, aren’t they? The idea that a musician or band can see something or feel strongly about something and want to base an entire album on that thing is a truly amazing…concept…isn’t it?
Here’s my take on it though... Not many bands do concept albums better than Between the Buried and Me.
Their previous 2 full length albums (‘Coma Ecliptic’ & ‘The Parallax II: Future Sequence’) and the EP ‘The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues’ are all concept releases. The band, comprising Tommy Giles Rogers Jr (Vocals & Keys), Paul Waggoner (Lead Guitar & Backing Vocals), Dustie Waring (Rhythm Guitar), Dan Briggs (Bass & Keys) and Blake Richardson (Drums) have even commented themselves that songs spanning different albums are interlinked and tell a story across their whole back catalogue. Now THAT is Prog!
‘Automata I’ is next in line. Part of a duel release (with the second half coming in June), it deals with the subject of human dreams, but from the point where dreams can be viewed for other peoples entertainment. Sketchy as hell, right?
Let me spell something out for you here…BTBAM are masters at their trade and their trade is technically stunning, mind enveloping, riveting Prog Metal. There isn’t another band like them, and if you find one, I will argue with you until I’m blue in the face that they aren’t as good as BTBAM and I have the albums to back that argument up. You can include ‘Automata I’ in that argument. It’s stunning.
Opener ‘Condemned to the Gallows’ lulls you in to a false sense of security. It has a nice picked intro before breaking into trademark BTBAM death metal. Blast beasts, savage riffery, throat shredding screams. It’s Dream Theater with balls and you can check out the video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq8u0uDK61E).
‘House Organ’ is second up with a punky drum intro from Blake Richardson. It’s three minutes of almost Muse-esque music, particularly the last 2 minutes. There are haunting keyboard parts layered over more effects from the guitars and bass with Giles Rogers Jr almost crooning over the top of it. One thing you can’t level at BTBAM is the accusation that they do not experiment with their sound. They aren’t uniform. This track, however short it is, stands out for its melody and in an album decidedly heavier than its predecessor, that shows they keep one eye on making sure nobody gets bored (not that anyone ever could with this band).
‘Yellow Eyes’ is the track from this record you’d play to an alien so they understood what BTBAM was about. It’s harking back to the days of “Colours” (arguably BTBAM’s crowning jewel) with its finger tapping guitar parts, hectic structure and odd time signatures. BTBAM could well win new fans with tracks of this quality. About 4:30 in the song slows down in to a lovely clean passage, including a passage allowing Dan Briggs to show off his considerable bass skills. The latter half of this track is pure story as the vocal parts become more distorted and creepy. Giles Rogers is a master at this, delivering parts that fit the story and bring you in to the songs emotionally as well as aurally. Waggoner and Waring get their chance to show off as the near 9 minute song draws to a close.
‘Millions’ has some wonderful guitar lines, particularly around the 2:45 mark where Waggoner and Waring are harmonising. For me, this track has a real Opeth feel to it. It’s also the closest to a ballad you’re going to get on this album, with singing throughout and Richardson holding the song together with a solid drum pattern as opposed to his trademark fill laden grooves.
‘Gold Distance’ is a minute of effects and keys. These tracks are commonplace in concept albums as they usually show a shift in the storyline. The other thing this track does is gives you a minute to prepare for the albums shining light, closing track ‘Blot’. Not because it’s overwhelmingly heavy, but because it represents what many may say is BTBAM’s strongest track to date. Given that they are yet to release anything less than stunning, that is quite a statement. Largely dominated by displays of sheer technical brilliance, ‘Blot’ is neither heavy nor melodic, nor is it just a simple track to get through. There is so much going on you begin to ask yourself how long it must have taken to compose. As far as closers go, they don’t come any better than this.
There is, however, a sense of disappointment with this record and that lies with the decision to split it in to two parts. ‘Automata I’ clocks in at around 35 minutes in length (which for 6 tracks is still some going) but there’s this tangible sense that it could have been more and would have had more thwack if they’d released the lot in one go.
However, what it does leave you wanting is more. Lots more. Because Between the Buried and Me are the pioneers of a new form of brilliance. A form of brilliance that nobody is even remotely close to reaching.
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Website – www.betweentheburiedandme.com
Condemned to the Gallows