Review Summary: Autotheism shows The Faceless expanding on their sound on every front, and somewhat regressing from it.
Anything greater than two years seems like a long time to wait for a band to release a new record. After four years of anticipation, Californian Death Metal outfit, The Faceless, have finally released their third album. So after such a great absence, does Autotheism live up to their standards and was it worth the delay?
The record opens with a fantastic orchestral section, as well as developing more of an industrial sound. Compliment has to be given to Michael Keene’s fantastic guitar work as always. The founding father and driving force behind The Faceless’ technical and frenetic sound, Keene hasn’t lost a step in terms of songwriting. Newcomer Geoffrey Ficco is an adequate vocalist and a fantastic replacement for Derek Rydquist. Ficco’s harsh vocals fills the spot that is clearly influenced by Rydquist, but at the same time isn’t trying to emulate him. Ficco and Keene’s vocals are layered here, bouncing between clean and heavy vocals, sometimes with the use of vocoder backing them. Some might argue Keene’s channeling of Mikael Akerfeldt or even Jerry Cantrell in some parts, especially towards the very start of the album, but the most obvious is that Keene has a clear Devin Townsend influence. Even to the point where I wouldn’t argue if I was told it was really Townsend himself doing guest vocals, as ludicrous as that sounds. The comparison is uncanny and the imitation nearly immaculate, most notable throughout ‘Accelerated Evolution’. Perhaps that title is a subtle nod to Devin himself?
Keene’s vocals are used in a much more liberal fashion this time around, so it’s just as well his voice is capable, albeit recycled. Clean vocals have always worked favours for The Faceless in the past (‘Sons Of Belial’ was my personal favourite from 2008s Planetary Duality), but with a heavier dosage this time around, they tend to lose impact come the second half of the record. The chorus of ‘The Eidolon Reality’ is a notable exception in this field, as some of the album’s vocal hooks are downright catchy, but the riffing and shredding is no where near as memorable as some of the band’s other work (‘Leica’ comes to mind). The exception to the rule is of course the three-part opening track of ‘Autotheist Movement’ where Keene takes center-stage with his heavy and melodic guitar work. It’s arguable to say that the trilogy is the best part of the whole album, and some of the best songs of the band’s career thus far.
‘Ten Billion Years’ features the fall of the band’s songwriting abilities. The track is very well constructed, and enjoyable to listen to, but not very memorable overall. It doesn’t reach the quality of some of the other material, but also doesn’t stoop so low as well. For example, ‘Hail Science’ is a flat-out terrible track. A very brief orchestral intermission only made worse by coupling it with an uninspired monologue which is read out by what seems to be a text-to-speech voice. The monologue ends on a rather pretentious note when the voice claims “...An age in which The Faceless will have to say; we told you so”. Seriously guys? The track would have been acceptable had it been strictly instrumental, (something akin to ‘Shape Shifters’) but it tends to fall flat completely. Its only real use is to segue us into ‘Hymn Of Sanity’ which is essentially one and a half minutes of Keene being an overzealous and enthusiastic guitarist. It’s not entirely bad, but you kind of get the feeling it was tacked on last minute to extend the track list length by one. That, and it almost feels like the band are trying to usher you towards the finish line, and even then, it’s all over before you know it. There’s nothing at all wrong with short albums, and in some cases they’re preferred as they tend to promote replay value, but in this case, it feels like something’s missing.
On the other hand, it’s weird to criticize Autotheism for being over too soon, as it’s technically the band’s longest record to date, clocking in at 40 minutes, give or take. It’s definitely not a short album, but it certainly feels short. Perhaps it’s the placement of the two most momentary tracks near the end of the album, the band could have benefited from swapping them with the song trilogy at the start, which would have made more sense as ‘Hail Science’ would have been slightly more acceptable as an introductory track and ‘Autotheist Movement’ would have been a perfect close to the album, spacing out Keene’s plentiful vocals more as to not make them as overwhelming. There’s plenty of good to be found on this album, as well as being a logical next step for the band musically but the record can be a bit disjointed at parts, as well as leaving the listener somewhat unfulfilled.
Autotheism could be considered a botched experiment of sorts. The ‘Autotheist Movement’ trilogy along with such tracks as ‘Accelerated Evolution’ and ‘In Solitude’ demonstrate that the group are more than capable of writing stellar technical death metal. However, the record is also weighed down by the aforementioned ‘Hail Science’ and ‘Hymn Of Sanity’ which are forgettable, perplexing and completely void of any real reason. Perhaps it was the extensive four-year wait and numerous line-up changes that made me expect a bit more than just another album, but this is still very much The Faceless and a must-have for fans of the band’s previous work, even if it’s not quite what some had hoped.