The Faceless’s Autotheism Was Well Worth the Wait

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It took rocker Axl Rose about $15 million and 15 years to complete Chinese Democracy. This would be unacceptable in the death metal scene, where studio time is hard to come by and long waits for fans usually mean the death of a band, regardless of its popularity. It’s easy to lose relevance if your band isn’t touring and there’s more than a two year gap between your records. There was concern that technical death metal band The Faceless would go the route of Necrophagist, who haven’t released an album since 2004. Planetary Duality, the last Faceless record, came out in 2008. Since then, every member of the band besides Michael Keene, the lead guitarist, and drummer Lyle Cooper has changed; even vocalist Demon Carcass left to go back to college. A short album at forty minutes, I was worried that their new release Autotheism would be more like a conceptual EP and less substantial than the last two records were. It took me more listens to get a feel for the record than any in recent memory. I have come to love it as much as the last two albums, but for very different reasons. It’s clear that this project was well thought out and Michael Keene, the composer, producer, engineer and mixer realized his vision, with new members Wes Hauch, Evan Brewer, and Geoffrey Ficco following his lead.

Though the speed picking, sweep picking, epic guitar solos, amazingly tight drumming, and growls the band is known for are present in songs like “The Eidolon Reality” and “Hymn of Sanity,” Autotheism is a departure from the Faceless’s past work. The album features a variety of digital sounds and real instrumentation, be it atmospheric strings, ominous circus organs, the sound of babies crying or a saxophone solo played by none other than the Internet’s Sexy Sax Man on the track “Deconsecrate.” The recording makes every instrument audible and crisp and the production adds layers to the album and gives every song a truly huge sound. Bass gets more attention, with Evan Brewer (who released a solo album called Alone that acts as a showcase for his skills) writing more complex bass lines than the band is known for. The lead vocalist’s range of screams and growls is more robust than Demon Carcass’s and the music in general is more versatile, employing bigger chords in rhythm sections and not always focusing on being lightning fast, instead slowing down in tracks like “Emancipate” and “The Eidolon Reality,” in which the bass and drums groove together and the guitar takes the backseat. The most apparent difference from Planetary Duality is the use of clean vocals. Michael Keene rarely sang on previous albums but here, his haunting baritone and amazing vibrato are the focus of many songs, which often have overlapping vocal parts. In “Deconsecrate,” Keene sings the words, “Angels set ablaze,” with the last word echoing as the organ continues. The clean vocals are integrated excellently and are essential to this album.

The writing in this album makes it consistent yet challenging to listen to. In the usual Faceless fashion, there’s a multi-part song called “Autotheist Movement” consisting of three parts: “Create,” “Emancipate” and “Deconsecrate,” with each part having a different character but repeating riffs from past movements. Though some criticize Keene for recycling some riffs from past albums, it’s apparent very rarely in songs like “Accelerated Evolution,” which has a transition that sounds eerily similar to something off of Planetary Duality. Others have accused the band of knocking off Between the Buried and Me and Opeth to go in a more progressive direction, but this album has its own identity. The material is entirely original, though the album shares similar characteristics with those bands’ work. Few progressive bands use keyboards and other sounds as well as the Faceless do or keep the music fresh with variety and incredibly smooth transitions. You won’t hear songs like “Deconsecrate,” “Accelerated Evolution” or the masterwork of the album, “In Solitude,” which begins with the best acoustic introduction and has one of most creative lead lines I’ve ever heard in a metal song, from another band.

Autotheism’s uniqueness isepitomized by its theme, which suggests that in an age when science can uncover the secrets of the universe, it may be time to abandon old faith and reliance in deities. A robotic voice in the short track “Hail Science” says, “The day is drawing near when all of mankind will bow to a new god, a god known as knowledge that will abolish the archaic belief systems designed for those who fear their own mortality.” It continues, stating that soon will begin “a new age of self-empowerment, an age of unfathomable possibility. An age of prosperity. An age of universal advancement and understanding. An age in which the Faceless will have to say, ‘We told you so.’” Other lyrics like, “I am the Alpha. I am the Omega. As I will it, so it shall be,” “At my table there’s no place, for your rituals of grace. I will drink to myself for I know there’s nothing else,” and “Follow me. I will show you where to follow yourself,” urge listeners to think for themselves and realize their own capabalities. The Faceless have an uncanny ability to make you feel tiny in the universe and Autotheism doesn’t disappoint in this way. The Faceless first awe you with their musical abilities and then with the lyrics when you start listening close. Take my fanboy opinion with a grain of salt, but know that the four years that it took to create this album were well worth it.

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