Between the Buried and Me’s ‘Automata II,’ the second half of an ambitious two record concept set, is an energetic and often scattered affair that rarely sits still. While it’s not as good overall as ‘Automata I,’ the record, which is out July 13th on Sumerian, is not without its merits. The emphasis on denser, more traditional prog structures makes for watered down pop appeal, but provides an excellent vehicle for the band’s technical proficiency, musical diversity and ability to pack a million different ideas into a relatively cohesive listening experience.
Restless opener, “The Proverbial Bellow’s” thirteen minute plus run time is a mission statement in itself. The intro runs through a marathon-like series of riffs thick with the lead guitars of Paul Waggoner and Dustie Warring. A heavy djent-ish riff gives way to Wurlitzer driven funk and a heavy gallop before settling into the lush vocals and spidery keyboard driven pattern of the verse. The first of a few recurring melodic chorus-like themes finds singer/keyboardist Tommy Giles repeating the lines “I am I/What is this?” over a pulsating keyboard figure before a tom heavy transition breaks the song open via a heavier groove featuring the same melodic passage. Shortly thereafter, a second chorus “Please pick up the phone/It’s been ringing for years now/I’m so alone” provides another thematically appropriate and repeated melody that helps to hold together the bloat, and provides something that the listener can latch on to amidst the rapid fire riff assault. What follows is a somewhat dizzying, countless and impressively weaved array of riffs and motifs. A particular highlight, is a foray into a jazzy clean arpeggiated guitar part punctuated by a walking keyboard riff and counterpoint guitars, which harkens back to noodley seventies prog in the best way possible. A somber spare piano figure brings the song home with a just in time reintroduction of the second chorus.
“Glide” serves as a brief introduction to “Voice of Treason,” and splits the difference between cabaret and Julius Fucik’s circus staple “Entry of the Gladiators.”
The slightly absurd metallic boogie of “Voice of Treason, “ complete with horns and maniacal ringleader vocals, provides an excellent vehicle for swinging solos all around. Halfway through its runtime, it turns a corner into darkness, as a call to “wake up” over an industrial tinged rhythm makes way into the dim chant of “we are hollow/condemned to the gallows.” The befittingly dim chorus effectively relaying the rock bottom point of the story arc.
“The Grid,” which stylistically recalls ‘Automata I,’ more than any other track on the set, is the best and most succinct thing here. The backbone of the song finds the band alternating between flavors of a moody synth heavy chorus theme and a knotty aggressive riff. Three quarters of the way through, a spare acoustic guitar intro leads the way into an effectively restrained coda. Punctuated by melodic leads, Mellotron-like synth, and a subdued rhythmic swing, the ending theme finds Giles repeating the mantra “we are in this together,” over and over, effectively providing calm lyrical closure to an overall well executed conceptual narrative.
Automata II,’ the second record in a two-part concept cycle, finds Between the Buried and Me operating in a more traditionally progressive rock/metal setting than its predecessor. While many of the atmospheric qualities and more concise song structures that made ‘Automata I’ so successful are missing, the record still succeeds on the strength its expert musicianship and continuation of the overall lyrical concept.