Review Summary: The Faceless have changed - not necessarily for the better, but they certainly have become more interesting.
Tech death titans The Faceless are no stranger to changing up their formula; their first release "Akeldama" was a progressive deathcore affair, while "Planetary Duality" took their sound in more of a Cynic-infused technical death metal direction, complete with blistering tempos and sweep picks at every corner. They were both very good in their own way, but both were mostly restricted to their respective sounds. With "Autotheism", the band begins to branch out, taking on elements of BTBAM and Opeth while retaining the general sound of Planetary Duality. The result is mostly a success, although it feels a bit unfocused at times.
"Autotheism" is a concept record about, as the title suggests, a man's desision to forgo all existing gods and worship himself instead. Done wrong, this could have come off as very egotistical, but it remains mostly tasteful, with most of the lyrics dedicated to attacking religion and promoting science - it's about as tasteful as one can expect an album called "Autotheism" to be. The lyrics don't tell the most cohesive story, but you can tell that they fit together and the album feels very thematic. The opening three songs comprise the "Autotheist Movement" and run seamlessly into each other. Each is a different beast, but all of them incorporate elements that are new to The Faceless - namely, prominent clean vocals (performed by none other than lead guitarist/main songwriter Michael Keene), saxophone solos, and carnival music sections. It feels like someone took Between the Buried and Me's latest EP and mixed it with Planetary Duality. This could be perceived as a bad thing, but it is done well enough that it feels like a true blend and not a halfassed one. It goes on for a bit longer than it needs to (the ending of the second part is great and all, but they could have shortened the solos), but it never gets boring.
The rest of the record shows a great amount of variation - "The Eidolon Reality" is a Cynic affair on crack, with a catchy chorus (in a Faceless song") and jazzy chords used in liberal amounts, "Ten Billion Years" is a mid tempo song with a solo from newcomer Wes Hauch, "Hymn of Sanity" is an extremely fast and short song that seems to be apologizing for the lack of speed earlier in the album, and "In Solitude" is a good closer that feels suspiciously close to being a ballad. The influences on each song are fairly obvious, but it doesn't really impact the quality of the music.
The album feels a bit awkwardly structured - long songs are typically in the middle or end of a record, and are something you have to build up to (unless all your songs are long, ahem, Dream Theater). The Faceless was probably experimenting by putting the epic first, and while it doesn't really fail, it has the effect of making the record feel a lot shorter than it is, due to the first song taking up almost half the runtime, while the rest of the songs feel almost like mere bonuses. Rush famously did this with "2112", but it just doesn't work as well here.
The album's production also feels awkward in some places. There's a section in Deconsecrate beginning at around the five minute mark that just feels...washed out. I don't know if it's just me or not, but it has a pretty jarring effect on me. Overall, it's an improvement from Keene's previous production jobs, but it's still far from perfect.
When all of that is said and done, though, we're left with an amazingly composed record; one that doesn't quite live up to the four year wait but is still a very solid album. People who complained of the previous albums' sameness should definitely check this one out, because the variation here is much greater. I won't go out and say The Faceless have changed for the better, but they've certainly become more interesting.