The latest Renault advert in this country proclaims a lot can change in four years. That much is true of The Faceless, in the sense that their line-up has undergone a complete overhaul, since unleashing the scorching ‘Planetary Duality’ back in 2008. A short while after the release, Geoff Ficco replaced then vocalist Derek ‘Demon Carcass’ Rydquist, eventually followed by Evan Brewer of Animosity stepping in to fill Brandon Giffin’s bass shoes, and just a few months ago, another founder member, Steve Jones, vacated his role in The Faceless and was replaced by Wes Haugh. That leaves guitarist Michael Keene as the sole founding member of The Faceless to remain, and what becomes very clear as ‘Autotheism’, the third album from the Encino, California band unfolds is that this is an album very much in his image.
Autotheism is described as ‘the deification of one’s self; self-worship’. What is projected might well be his perfect vision for The Faceless – but what begins is a bit of a convoluted and frankly outrageous mess. The album begins with a three part track entitled ‘Autotheist Movement’, and the twinkling of the ivories at the beginning already displays a new direction from the band. This is the first part, ‘Create’, and already points in the direction of more clean singing as Keene’s auto-tuned tones zone in. This different direction isn’t necessarily bad; it builds up the tension quietly but very nicely indeed for Ficco’s growls are introduced. And then ‘Emanicipate’ and ‘Deconsecrate’ follow. Both serve to effectively kill any true enjoyment of the album.
It’s one thing to state your influences, and another to inject them into your music. To pretty much parallel them is just bad judgement. The former is more like The Faceless you’d expect to a point, but my, Keene loves to sing, and his vocals project even more over the music. Initially, it’s not too bad, with the music staying fast and heavy and contributing some excellent deathy sections. There’s also a distinct Opeth flavour going on too, and eventually Keene comes across singing a little like Devin Townsend. Then ‘Deconsecrate’ rolls up and proceeds to commit outright plagiarism on not one, but two counts – first of all, the twisted carnival sounds that seems too eerily like the carnival section from ‘The Mighty Masturbator’ from the Devin Townsend Project’s ‘Deconstruction’, and then the blatant lifting of Opeth’s ‘The Devil’s Orchard’s key line ‘God is dead’, delivered in not too dissimilar fashion either, other than that Keene is significantly inferior as a vocalist to Mikael Akerfeldt. I felt apoplectic with rage at this point – a polar reversal of how I felt during hearing their previous album. Subsequent listens soften the blow but I still feel like no effort has really been made to sound anything at all distinct two of progressive metal’s modern day figureheads.
The Faceless – Ten Billion Years
After that debacle, The Faceless do try and make good on the better parts of what they’ve shown to this point. ‘Accelerated Evolution’ sees the only use of a vocoder on this album – it was deployed particularly regularly on ‘Planetary Duality’ to sublime effect – and continues on the slower, more methodical pace set for this album. ‘The Eidolon Reality’ is more effective, while still not at the band’s absolute best. It makes for Keene’s best vocal moment, with a catchy refrain pierced by Ficco’s roar – ‘Beyond the Eidolon reality, blinding me (EIDOLON!)…’. That feels to be as good as it gets though, however slamming some of the riffs become as the album progresses.
I’ve really lost track of how many concept albums I’ve listened to this, but if there’s one thing that links the majority of them, it’s that they excel at two things – one being a strong concept that confidently projects the story to the listener, and two, musically its got to all add up – great riffs, originality, and above all, don’t make it overcomplicated. ‘Autotheism’ has a few great riffs, but any momentum they try to gain through the decent songs is continually washed away, first by the great mess that is ‘Autotheist Movement’, which essentially serves to continually trip up, and ‘Hail Science!’, a skit of sorts hailing the rise of science and the fall of religion in a Microsoft Sam voice, which you could take in good humour, or as a waste of album space. And further, I don’t even care very much for religion, but the whole ‘yay science! Boo religion!’ thing going on here isn’t going to raise eyebrows much – more, just diluting the concept that Keene seemed to be going for in the first place.
On first impressions, I believed this to be one of the worst albums I’ve heard all year. I don’t like trashing albums but criticism is due where it is due. A few listens later and it’s bearable – Ficco isn’t much different as a vocalist to Rydquist but he at least mixes up his roars a little more and shows a lot of effort, on tracks such as particularly during the ‘Autotheist Movement’ series and later on tracks such as ‘Ten Billion Years’. Generally as good as you can expect from a death metal/deathcore vocalist, and where they’re not pilfering Opeth, Devin or Cynic, they still make a decent band despite all the line-up changes. As for Keene – let’s face it, The Faceless is effectively his band now – his skills as a guitarist can’t be questioned, but when a band loses its identity, it loses its soul. I’ll applaud any effort to pursue change and to avoid stagnation as a band, but ‘Autotheism’, in trying to masquerade as luminaries, is deluded in its self-elevated grandeur.