The Faceless
Autotheism
It’s been four years since the release of The Faceless’ ambitious last album, Planetary Duality. That’s plenty of time for some kind of musical or sonic metamorphosis (and plenty of band member change-ups as well), and on their new concept album Autotheism, the band truly spreads its mutant wings. I was impressed with Akeldama, their debut back in 2006 – certainly more than some of The Faceless’ unfocused, breakdown-happy tech/core peers – based on the smart-yet-still-spastic songwriting, strafing electronic elements and some wacky but balanced Faith No More-style antics. Planetary Duality was more of a focused and knotty tech-death odyssey – and bonus, no breakdowns – with a heavy dose of Cynic (particularly in those vocoded vocals). Leading up to Autotheism, the band has folded in some new influences, most notably Opeth. The result is a quantum leap forward for The Faceless.

After a warbling Danny Elfman-esque intro (shades of Batman or Beetlejuice), opening track “Create” unfolds with a moody duet of new death vocalist Geoffrey Ficco’s growls and Michael Keene’s sullen croon – a damn fine Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) impression if I’ve ever heard one. That’s just the prelude to the stunning “Emancipation,” a glorious double-helix of tech-death staccato and intricate prog keyboards, tangled with strands of tinkling piano and Keene’s confident cleans. (We’ll skip past the ambient interlude for now – crying babies? really?) Halfway through the track, a soaring and crunchy Opeth riff takes center stage, with Keene’s confident vocals ably downshifting from their Mike Patton highs to a smooth and harmonized Akerfeldt croon. The music follows suit, calmly settling into a mellow, soulful and bluesy interlude that would be perfectly at home on any album from My Arms, Your Hearse to Watershed. Then we close out with more virtuoso prog-keyboards, tech-death paroxysms and blazing solos. One of the high points of the year for me so far.

At the other end of the album, the epic closer, “In Solitude,” also wears its Opeth emotions on its sleeve. This one starts as a ballad, with chiming acoustic guitars and Keene’s lush and plaintive vocal (seriously, the guy is proving himself to be one hell of a vocal chameleon) before the track coarsens and brings the metal. Again, the Opeth impression is spot-on, but just to throw another reference at you, I hear a good chunk of Extol in there as well – particularly in the repeated vocal refrain.

All of these references aren’t to say that The Faceless is well, faceless – slipping on other guises and skins as casually as Hannibal Lecter would don a freshly-carved mask. Quite the opposite; I’m very impressed at how ably the band has incorporated these influences into their already focused and rippling tech-death assault to create something fresh and exciting in the genre.

As for the rest of the album, it’s mostly terrific, though it’s not without a few odd and jarring choices. First among them is in “Deconsecrate,” the follow-up to “Emancipation,” and the closer to the first thematic section of the album. Most of “Deconsecrate” is a bullet-hell shooter disguised as a metal track, and it’s armed with some brilliant power-ups: a demonic Gregorian chant here, a gorgeous sax solo there, and a fantastic, proggy guitar solo at the 4:50 mark. However, there’s also an annoying, dreamy calliope that breezes in at several moments (accompanied by an overly elastic and loungy Mike Patton vocal impression). Sorry, but to me, there’s nothing so hackneyed or overplayed as ‘evil circus’ in prog or metal, and so whenever I hear it, I want to punch a clown.

“Accelerated Evolution” is a strong track all around (Spawn of Possession, you should be writing songs like this, dammit) and one that uses Keene’s clean, Mike Patton-inspired vocals to great effect. The follow-up, “The Eidolon Reality,” however, does not – its crooned chorus is schmaltzy and overcooked, and is repeated way too often for my tastes. Shame, ‘cause the rest of the track features the album’s most psychotic and scribbly guitarwork. The first half of “Ten Billion Years” is somewhat of a dull lurch, but the second half, with more clean vocals and progressive explorations, is much better. And “Hymn of Sanity,” two tracks later, is a dizzying assault that should have been at least 3-4 minutes longer.

Despite those nitpicks, Autotheism has been on steady repeat for the past two weeks or so, and at this point, I’m confident it will show up on my top ten for 2012. If not for a few of those odd gimmicks and off moments (babies, calliopes, one track that should have been way longer, and another ruined by an obnoxious chorus), it could even have been my #1. The mix of competent, controlled and dazzling tech-death with swirling prog and a damn fine Opeth impression satisfies so much of what I find exciting in metal, and the fact that these songs are just so damn listenable (for tech death, at least), rather than jumbling together in a overstuffed mess, is quite the achievement. Gorod beware – you’ve got The Faceless right on your heels.


[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 3rd, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Guilliame

    Great album! Tons of good material and writing. Keene is a phenom on the stringthing!


  2. Commented by: Odovacar

    I love the video game metaphor here:

    “Most of “Deconsecrate” is a bullet-hell shooter disguised as a metal track, and it’s armed with some brilliant power-ups…”

    The album didn’t command my attention like Planetary Duality did, however I commend them for being experimental and aping Opeth isn’t a bad thing for me.


  3. Commented by: Storm King

    I liked Planetary Duality more, but this is a pretty wicked album. Glad I’m not the only one who thought the clean vocals sounded like Akerfeldt, first time I heard it, I was like “wait, is this really the Faceless?”


  4. Commented by: Andy Synn

    It’s unfortunate the “gimmicks” are so jarring a times. I think a judicious pruning would have made the songs a bit snappier and removed these jarring elements. Though the album is still very good regardless.

    Also I did an interview with Michael Keene a few years back, and we spent quite a lot of it geeking out about Extol, and he explicitly namechecked them as a key influence on the new stuff, so the shift to proggy, clean-vocal inflected death metal shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise!


  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    I’d love to see that interview, post a link? And glad to see that Extol wasn’t just an indulgent reference on my part – that middle segment from “In Solitude” really does sound like something off of Undeceived.


  6. Commented by: Andy Synn

    Found it. Turns out it was only a year and a half ago, not two as I surmised. Oh how time flies. Anyway, it’s just a transcript since I wasn’t videoing my interviews at the time.

    http://www.nocleansinging.com/2011/05/26/an-ncs-interview-michael-keene-the-faceless/


  7. Commented by: Jordan Itkowitz

    great writeup, especially because you were talking to him just as this album was being shaped. I wonder at what point the Akerfeldt influence came into the picture (it can’tt just be me who hears that Opeth comparison loud and clear).

    that’s also a nice coincidence that you both love Extol so much. Burial blew me away when it first came out and Undeceived was great too but aside from “Grace for Succession,” Synergy (or Blueprint Dives) never clicked with me for some reason. Gotta go back to them again.


  8. Commented by: Shockwave

    Thumbs up for the Faceless on this one. First 3 songs which blend into 1 song made my day. What a winner.


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