Whether it was due to lineup changes, release dates being pushed back and even guitarist/vocalist/founding member Michael Keene getting a nasty hand injury, fans of the Californian five-piece were surely starting to compare the band to fellow technical/progressive death metal act Necrophagist – a group who many have been waiting to see the release of their third album for almost a decade. Fortunately, Keene knuckled down, and with the help of an almost completely new band lineup has created a spectacular record well worth the wait.
The title, a word created by the band, could take upon a multitude of meanings, with this reviewer interpreting the phrase and album lyrics as a message of both self-enlightenment and a dismissal of organized religions. While on their past two records Keene’s role in the vocal department has been to add a couple of clean vocal passages here and there, on Autotheism the usage of actual singing has been significantly increased, with Keene and new frontman Geoffrey Ficco forming a vocal team of sorts.
The equal amount of cleans and growls is just one example of how The Faceless’ third release is by far their most progressive to date, with elements of prog legends Opeth, Devin Townsend and Cynic all hugely apparent, especially on the absolutely phenomenal album opening “Autotheist Movement” suite. The near 18 minute, three track piece is a stunning voyage across numerous moods and sounds – from a whirlwind assault of blasts, swept-picked guitars and Ficco’s bellows, to textural synths, tasteful leads and Keene’s strong singing – third part “Deconsecrate” turns up the avant-garde factor by feature a very tasteful saxophone solo, which is then followed by a fantastic guitar solo by new lead guitarist Wes Hauch.
While it’s easy to lavish praise on Keene, the Svengali of the band, new members Ficco, Hauch and the supremely talented bassist Evan Brewer are all outstanding musicians in their own right. “The Eidolon Reality,” a track that had been released in demo form last year as a teaser, is probably the most well written, straight-forward song in The Faceless’ back catalogue, with a massive chorus with jazzy chords and a great vocal melody punctuating the full on Lyle Cooper drum assault and Ficco’s roars.
The record’s production, unsurprisingly handled by Keene, is a nice step-up from 2008’s Planetary Duality, with lush sounding keyboards, crisp drums and refreshingly under-distorted and clear guitars showing off Keene’s improved engineering job.
Fans of the more pure death metal/deathcore sections on The Faceless’ first two releases may be put off at first by stronger progressive elements to Autotheism, and it’s undoubtedly a risk for any band to take a step into the great musical unknown, but taking this chance has paid enormous dividends for The Faceless on Autotheism.
It’s not only the band’s best record and a strong forerunner for the album of the year, but also possibly a release that will be looked back on by generations of metal and progressive fans for years to come as something truly special.
(released August 14, 2012 on Sumerian Records)