Automata II is the conclusion of Between the Buried and Me's multi-volume concept recording whose narrative revolves around a protagonist whose dreams are stolen and presented as entertainment via broadcast by a nefarious union between state and commerce. The first part appeared in March 2018 to almost exclusively positive reviews as writing, performance, and production were all top-notch. From the jump, it's troubling that this four-song, 31-minute sequel is even shorter than its predecessor, which clocked in at a shade over 35 minutes; both recordings could easily have fit on a single disc. What's more, this set is even shorter than the 2011 EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, making it more of a head scratcher as an "album." (Let's face it, BTBAM fans are used to long records.)
Despite this questionable packaging, the music matches the quality of its predecessor. Opener "The Proverbial Bellow" commences with the full band chugging in syncopated rhythms, guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring turn on the over-amped churn, with Tommy Rogers alternately offering dirty and clean vocals barking and plaintively singing the lyrics as a Deep Purple-esque organ; repetitive, hypnotic piano lines and pointillistic guitars support him before erupting into cacophony near the halfway point via thundering tom-toms courtesy of Blake Richardson. Djent and prog go at one another, creating swirls of sonic color as the music balances the confusion and panic in the lyrics. After the momentary yet welcome distraction of "Glide" (complete with accordion, calliope, and piano) introduces -- in waltz time -- "Voice of Trespass" (titled for the name of the company that steals and broadcasts dreams). Introduced by a full band gallop, they are joined by horns that give way to swinging gypsy jazz acoustic guitar (à la Django Reinhardt) and acoustic piano, before assuming the punchy verses with Rogers screaming the lyrics. Throughout its 13-plus-minute run, the tracks flirt with fingerpopping jazz, vintage Canterbury-styled prog rock, death metal, and more Those fat horns add unexpected -- and welcome -- timbral and textural qualities. Interestingly, the track's second half invests in meaty, doom riffery (from guitars, keyboards, and horns), that unites the halves of Automata as a whole. "The Grid" is an epic closer. Elements of Kim Thayil's (Soundgarden) guitar sound intertwine with bass, drum, and keyboard tenets of prog amid clean and dirty vocals, distorted mellotron drones, and clattering drums. About two-thirds of the way through, a Led Zeppelin-esque acoustic guitar adorned by piano introduces a long narrative conclusion wherein Rogers' vocals offer echoes of David Bowie. Automata II flows effortlessly, creating a prismatic emotional palette where music and lyrics come together to define not only the narrative arc, but a kind of spiritual and philosophical exhaustion in the listening experience. Automata II can be listened to on its own, but it holds much greater power when taken together with its predecessor. It is easily the more musically adventurous of the two recordings, making it an indispensable part of Between the Buried and Me's provocative catalog.