The Faceless

Autotheism

01. Autotheist Movement I: Create
02. Autotheist Movement II: Emancipate
03. Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate
04. Accelerated Evolution
05. The Eidolon Reality
06. Ten Billion Years
07. Hail Science
08. Hymn of Sanity
09. In Solitude

[08/14/12]
[Sumerian Records]

The Faceless. What is there to say about them that hasn’t already been said? Starting out as a technical and progressive deathcore band, they devastated the genre with their debut album Akeldama. Then they matured and moved away from that, becoming 100% tech death, melting faces and expectations with 2008’s stellar Planetary Duality. But that was 4 years ago. The field has changed. It’s been quite a while, and expectations have been raised higher and higher; reaching a near-breaking point. Will The Faceless deliver? Well, the time has come, and the answer is not a simple yes or no, depending on the expectations of the listener. Autotheism is a very intriguing album. It is definitely the band’s most ambitious effort, which is saying a lot considering their previous output. Well, do they sink, or do they rise even higher? It’s finally time to find out.

In the past 4 years since Planetary Duality, lead guitarist/songwriter Michael Keene has definitely undergone some sort of musical journey. If anything, now he can be called lead guitarist/almost-lead singer/songwriter Michael Keene. This is perhaps the most unexpected and potentially controversial thing about the album. Michael Keene sings a lot on this album. It’s almost as he sings more than actual lead vocalist Geoffrey Ficco. And surprisingly, it works… it works very, very well. This will definitely be a point of divergence for the band’s fandom, because clean vocals are pretty important to this album. While they existed to some degree in the band’s previous albums, now they are a big part of the sound. Many fans will be unhappy with this new development.

There is another shocking change that will be very divisive: This isn’t really a tech death album so much as a prog death album. The Faceless have changed genre yet again. Autotheism is heavily influenced by Opeth and Devin Townsend. That isn’t to say there aren’t some riffs that will make up and coming guitar players not want to be guitar players anymore, but the approach is much more deliberate this time, much more focused on song texture and atmosphere. Interestingly enough, they’ve made mellow songs work while still having their trademark sound and not having something feel missing.

The album feels very much like a continuation of Planetary Duality without being a repeat of it. Typical Faceless-isms are here. Michael Keene likes to riff a certain way, Lyle Cooper likes to drum a certain way, and fans will immediately pick up on these. Vocalist Geoffrey Ficco has seamlessly taken the torch from Derek Rydquist, and while his voice is a tiny bit less beastly than the famed “Demon Carcass”, he holds his own and he has a greater range of textures to utilize, which adds some much needed diversity to the harsh vocals. Of course, the elephant in the room is Keene’s vocals. Admittedly, they didn’t sound so hot on the pre-production preview of ‘The Eidolon Reality.’ Well, it seems Keene didn’t waste 4 years doing nothing, and he clearly improved his voice. Through manipulation of timbre and the occasional addition of vocoder, he sounds pretty damn good. He very noticeably channels Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth and Devin Townsend, almost to the point where on one of the tracks it sounds like Devin is actually on guest vocals. Not that this is a bad thing, because the vocals fit the music perfectly. They’re also crazy catchy and memorable. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself muttering “God is dead!” to yourself. If anything, The Faceless have learned how to perfectly build up intensity in a song, hold it there in a moment of calm, and then blow it up with perfect punctuation.

The increased prominence of pianos, orchestral elements, and other samples also adds to the dramatic factor of the songs. The songs are written so that they flow into each other, sometimes setting up moments that resolve 3 songs later. There are even throwbacks to parts from Planetary Duality. The opening three-parter ‘Autotheist Movement’ is nothing short of an amazing progressive masterpiece, and the rest of the album delves deeper into death metal while maintaining the atmosphere set up by the first few tracks. Some riffs are repeated with slight alterations halfway through the album, which adds more depth and character to the entire album. This is definitely an album intended to be listened as a whole, which, as their longest album so far at 40 minutes, is an overall very satisfying experience. Especially since the closing track ‘In Solitude’ is so strong, so powerful and well-written.

On the note of songwriting, it is definitely miles ahead of their previous work. There’s quite a bit of jazz influence compounded on top of their existing sound. The solo work by Keene and new guitarist Wes Hauch is nothing short of amazing. It’s not just the speed of the shred, but the tastefulness of their licks and how well it accentuates the rest of the song. The leads are overall very memorable and well-written. Even the rest of the guitar work, taking notes from the likes of Between the Buried and Me and Dream Theater, are more diverse in terms of instrumentation. There are waltz sections, slow old-school death metal, off-time fusion riffs, good old Planetary Duality style technical blasting parts. For fans of progressive death metal, there’s everything here. One could say that some of the work here is derivative of their predecessors, but even if that were true, it’s no small feat to being all those elements together and make a coherent, enjoyable package. That isn’t saying that the songs are ripoffs, it’s just that it’s hard to tread in this kind of music without stepping on the toes of those who have done it so well before. There are definitely influences, mind you, but they’re only just that; influences, and they’re most welcome. In the end this is a very “The Faceless” album, the playing is immediately identifiable. Also, as a very random surprise, the saxophone player from the Sexy Sax Man videos guests on ‘Deconsecrate’ with a brief saxophone solo, and fans of Shining and Ihsahn can attest that saxophones in metal are always awesome.

Interestingly enough, even though drummer Lyle Cooper and bassist Evan Brewer are among the most talented players of their instruments, they don’t really shine here. It’s not that the drumming/bass is boring — far from it — but given how insanely good these two are, it was pretty much expected for them to just blow minds. There is one objective issue with the album that will bother most, to say the least. The drums are very obviously a drum machine; stock, unprocessed Superior Drummer 2.0 to be specific. Having heard so many less experienced bands do this, the tone is probably burned into the minds of listeners. While it isn’t terrible, it’s definitely below the standards of a band of this caliber, especially given that they have one of the best drummers in metal. To put it simply, this drum tone is almost unacceptable. After a while it almost stops being an issue; It’s less obvious in the faster songs, and even in the slower songs it’s not too grating after a few listens. The guitar tone is similarly lackluster, being thin and just below the standards of a band like The Faceless and a semi-seasoned producer like Michael Keene. As it is the case with the drums, the guitar tone stops being an issue after a while since the songs are so captivating, but it’s pretty jarring on initial listens.

To be honest, this album is a lot to take in. Even though initial reactions will probably be mixed, given time this album will shine. It has some flaws, but it’s too good to be dragged down too much by them. Longtime fans of the band who can get over the switch to prog will definitely love this album, and even previous non-fans might be swayed by the antics on display here. In the end, was it worth the four year wait? It probably was, because this is possibly the best followup to Planetary Duality that they could have done. It’s not eclipsed by its predecessor, and it doesn’t make its predecessor obsolete. Not many bands can pull this off, changing genres with such proficiency and coming up with a worthy successor to a stellar album. Autotheism is not what you’d expect, but in a good way. A very good way.

The Faceless – Autotheism

4.5/5

– NT

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