Review Summary: Symptomatic of a healthy desire to expand and to grow, Autotheism is a welcome break from the stereotype.
By no means could this album pass through its fanbase without a controversial split in opinions. It's not as if The Faceless has kicked back and become lazy, they have just deviated noticeably from their earlier material. I think that this change in form has also brought about a welcome shift in content: Autotheism delivers a much more interesting set of tracks this time around; to disregard this album simply for its change in thematic style is to ultimately do yourself a disservice. I will spell it out plainly, I did not like Planetary Duality and I certainly did not enjoy Akeldama. However, this album if assuming it's a model for future progression has certainly made a fan out of me.
One major source of controversy is both the introduction of cleans vocals and their overlaying style. What is interesting to note is the fact that they sound almost entirely different throughout this album's ventures, a contrast best represented in a comparison cut between In Solitude and Create. These clean vocals do their job quite well enough - the aforementioned closing track being the discernible moment where they are a delightful highlight. It has become fashionable to compare them to that of Devin Townsend, and indeed this entire album to his work such as in Deconstruction, but such communicated relations are but perception only. There is no real comparison to be made here, the best I can say is that people have fabricated it in their minds. It's not that they are liars, the tendency to find obscure/nonexistent patterns and similarities between artists seems to be a universal practice. And honestly, the best you can really establish is just some thematic similarities falling under some broadly defined paradigm. To which end everything just becomes derivative of everything else and so it doesn't matter.
Here we start off with the Autotheist Movement trilogy. This is where the album takes its share of time to explore this interesting topical premise, represented quite suitability in the lyrics. The songs themselves are robust and noticeably progressive in structure. And it is here that one will take notice that The Faceless is introducing a more melodic but otherwise more diverse array of sounds into their music. While this band still maintains their technical identity, they have traversed beyond its edges just enough that they were able to finally break the strain of its limitations. If I had to summarize their previous works in one word, I would have to say that they were just 'typical'. In comparison, Autotheism is breath of fresh air despite a minor incorporation of their influences into their very signature this time around. There are neat touches all around that can be appreciate such as in this trilogy, like the use of saxophone in the second track - and otherwise the occasional lending to acoustics.
The album has this distinct texture brought on by its mix/mastering style. If I could say anything in greater detail about it, it's that the color schema present in the artwork is perfectly translatable in sonic terms in the music. The guitar comes in really thin yet full of substance, and is vibrant in terms of its audible presence. Everything is clearly audible and distinguished from everything else, which includes the bass as is contrary to popular belief. What is absent is 'bass' only in terms of its filtering ability in the waveform. To illustrate this, if you were to increase the lower frequencies in your equalizer significantly, then you would get 'more bass' in its own right, but you wouldn't have any distinguished extra-audible capability in discerning the notes in the bass track. So Brewer's presence is not absent from the mix, it's role has just been trimmed of its unimportant effects on the audible mix.
Tracks like Ten Billion Years and The Eidolon Reality are unfortunate weak points. There is just not that much to them; they are super repetitive and unpronounced despite their promising introductory phases. While they are technically interesting from the perspective of being self-contained in their first 40 seconds or so, the content is just sorely rehashed throughout the entire song. These tracks are still necessary for the flow of the album, so it's a relief that they are blissfully short. It's writing of this low caliber that prevented me from digging any of their preceding material. As the stumbling blocks they might be, they are unable to overshadow the two 3rds of this album that are just excellent.
In particular, Accelerated Evolution and In Solitude are the penultimate duo. They are just superfantastically good; well-written; intelligently structured and played. This is the direction I would like to see The Faceless pursue more clearly. In Solitude best embodies their new found progressive leanings, yet being executed much more crisply than the trilogy we were treated with in the beginning. This here is a much softer track, which is not necessarily either a bad or a good thing mind you, but it is a pleasant surprise to see this band be able to execute it so soundly. I have the feeling that some people will be unopen to such a directional shift in theme, which I think is quite saddening when considering the rich and diverse fields of progress that has been laid open to them as a result. I remember waking up one morning, still unsure just how this album clicked with me, and having Accelerated Evolution come up in a random shuffle. I was immediately taken back when giving fresh ears to it. There is just so much of a concentrated aesthetic brilliance contained within both of these tracks. It's not so much that they necessarily owe themselves to originality, it's just that the cohesive whole is structurally significant and its contents written well enough that it doesn't matter. For example, the use of second-long musical break in Accelerated Evolution in interruption of a fast-paced rhythm is by no means some autonomous tactic, but it is incorporate well enough that it is a joy to experience nonetheless.
As previously mentioned, the lyrics perform their functional job just fine enough. They are by no means by the best, or even that good, but they stand aside from the illiterate crap that has flooded much of metal. I would have liked to see the themes like so expressed In Solitude expanded upon and become more commonplace in that style; the drive with which Keene likes to push his metaphilosophical naturalism is just ridiculous. There is clear headroom for some expansion here, but he seems passionate enough about it to the point that I am not holding my breath. What is most bizarre is that people seem inclined to intake the form of their lyrics entirely from the perspective of what lies on the surface. It is true that they seem to express a clearly determined content regardless of any structural spins, but people's criticisms of such lines like, "An age in which The Faceless will have to say, 'we told you so'," are unfounded in virtue of their assumption of what it is meant to expressively be. With lines such as "Praise science eternally," and "Accept science into your life," I wouldn't dare think that the irony is not lost on them. I choose to interpret such feats as being in mockery of religion that is yet facilitated through an underlying goal of uplifting empiricism and science.
Autotheism is an album that is worth your initiative honesty or at the very least your time. It doesn't have a stake in the purpose of appealing to everyone, an analysis that is assuredly withstanding their fanbase, but this all is ultimately a good thing. It seems that The Faceless are starting to truly explore their identity and have become better artists for it. I stand here hoping that they will continue in this new development trend, perhaps earning earn their place as distinguished, autonomous musicians that will venture on to herald many a great feats.