Review Summary: It seems that Michael Keene truly does worship himself as a god.
The Faceless came into their own with their sophomore release, 'Planetary Duality,' which saw them transform into a full-fledged technical death metal band. The album may have had a few riffs which were copied from bands like Spawn of Possession and Decapitated, but it was a huge step forwards from their deathcore debut, 'Akeldama,' and was so well-executed that it was hard to argue with. 'Planetary Duality' was an exciting, atmospheric, and cohesive concept album about reptoids which proved to be quite addictive.
The band followed that album by played a new song live, 'The Eidolon Reality,' which essentially sounded like a more melodic and less energetic b-side from 'Planetary Duality' with no major changes in direction. The band then announced a new and highly talented lineup with great potential - vocalist Geoffrey Ficco, whose vocals sound practically identical to the band's previous vocalist, Derek Rydquist; bassist Evan Brewer (ex-Animosity, ex-Reflux), who had just released a rather enjoyable all-bass solo album entitled 'Alone'; and Wes Hauch, who played the best solo on Periphery's sophomore release.
The band's third record overall and first record with this new lineup is titled 'Autotheism,' after the philosophy of worshipping oneself as a god (see Anton LaVey's satanism and Ayn Rand's objectivism) which is espoused in the album's lyrics. This is unfortunate, as objectivism has proved to be a dangerous philosophy in today's political environment, followed by many extreme American conservatives (including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who uses the philosophy as justification for favoring corporate welfare over the plight of the people).
'Autotheism' contains more keyboards and singing than any of the band's previous work, and it strives to locate itself in the progressive metal genre, as is especially evidenced by its 18 minute long opening track, 'Autotheist,' which is divided into 3 movements.
The first movement, 'Create,' begins with a keyboard intro. Unfortunately, the music is along the lines of a generic film score, and is rendered by incredibly cheap and artificial sounding string synths. The full band then enters, giving way to a surprisingly slow, Tool-inspired rock track with sung verses and choruses which alternate between growling and singing. After two verses and two choruses, the track is abruptly cut off by the second movement, 'Emancipate,' which instantly launches into the group's usual brand of death metal. We are soon greeted with a guitar/synth unison riff which sounds suspiciously like Veil of Maya. Soon after, samples of crying babies and music boxes begin to play, which give way to a riff that sounds like it could have easily been on Planetary Duality.
One minute and 47 seconds into the song, we are hit with a blatant bit of plagiarism - a direct quote of Devin Townsend's 'The Mighty Masturbator.' The arpeggios, harmonic progression, tempo, and guitar/synth texture is identical to the first part of Townsend's epic track - and if that weren't enough, Keene enters with a sung part delivered in an imitation Townsend voice, and on similar lyrics ('Say goodnight to the voices in your head' instead of 'Say goodnight to the boy')!
One minute later, we hit the chorus of the song, which has identical strumming patterns, tempo, and chord types to the chorus of 'The Eidolon Reality,' along with the same sort of two-part vocal harmony. Only the band knows whether there is a connection between the two songs or if the ideas are simply recycled. The song then cuts to mellotron and a short guitar solo bearing Michael Akerfeldt's signature tone, and we are briefly transported into an Opeth song. This quickly gives way to the band's signature guitar arpeggios.
The final movement of 'Autotheist,' titled 'Deconsecrate', begins with with yet another Akerfeldt-imitation solo, this time over a new organ and singing-driven texture, before turning into horror carnival music with a chorus of 'God is Dead' (see the chorus of Opeth's 'The Devil's Orchard'). This section is then cut off completely abruptly by a death metal section consisting solely of 'Planetary Duality' leftover riffs, with the worst offender being essentially a reprise of the end of 'Sons of Belial.' This lengthy song finally begins to overstay its welcome in this section, largely thanks to these recycled riffs. Luckily, a saxophone solo from Sergio Flores (aka the sexy sax man) manages to keep things somewhat interesting.
This band has always released somewhat top-heavy albums, so it is no surprise that 'Autotheist' is the album's most interesting track - it manages to be engaging despite plenty of recycled ideas and poor taste. Everything that follows merely feels redundant, despite the band's consistently fantastic musicianship.
Only one track - 'Hymn to Sanity' - attempts to capture the energy that made the band's previous work so exciting. At a scant 1.5 minutes, the song is practically over before it began, and its inclusion feels like a half-hearted attempt to please fans of the band's older material. It is preceded by a minute-long interlude called 'Hail Science,' which features Microsoft Sam spouting nonsense predictions about the future over the same awful string synths that were used in the album's intro, ending with an unfortunate self-reference - "The Faceless will have to say 'We told you so.'"
The final song, 'In Solitude,' may trick you into thinking you're listening to a Metallica cover.... but 2:00 into the song, you will realize that you've actually been listening to an Opeth cover. But wait... is that a Cynic riff I heard 10 seconds later" And a vocal melody imitating a guitar part from Extol's 'Storm of Disillusions'" It would be easy to find a precedent for every riff on the album - the musical ideas are largely derivative. Whether you will enjoy that depends on how much like the source material and how much you desire originality.
The production of this album is under par. Keene's production for other bands (Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya) has always sounded quite awful, but his own band's records have always sounded a step above - not so here. The mix on this record sounds sounds flat and unbalanced. The drums sound muddled and flimsy and are buried quite low in the mix. Keene's singing is also buried quite low in the mix, probably in an attempt to mask the still-obvious vocal tuning. The guitars don't sound as clean as they do on the band's previous record. It feels like an unfinished mix, and it doesn't allow the songs to reach their full potential.
In Keene's attempts to lead The Faceless towards a more progressive sound, he created a derivative record which underutilizes the band's extremely talented new lineup and would have benefited greatly from an external producer and mixer. One gets the sense that this could have been another top notch album from the band with a little more guidance - after all, 'Planetary Duality' had many derivative ideas, but managed to be completely engaging thanks to its strong overall vision and atmosphere, and because the band stuck to what they do best. 'Autotheism' certainly pushes new ground for the band, even if it is ground that has been tread more successfully numerous times over by other bands - The Faceless may now be playing progressive metal, but they certainly aren't helping to progress a stale genre which has largely forgotten the meaning of its name.