Review Summary: A surprising step up.
Up until now, my relationship with The Faceless had been a slowly deteriorating one. When I first heard Planetary Duality
back in 2009, I thought it was the heaviest, fastest, and most technical shit on the planet. The intricate guitar harmonies, the frenzied drumming, and varied vocal work made it clear to me that we were witnessing a fantastic new beacon for technical death metal. Throw in some progressive rock influences and some creepy sci-fi interludes for good measure, and things just got more interesting. But sadly, Autotheism
ruined the good will built up by many fans. It wasn’t an awful album, but it sounded disjointed and undercooked by the band’s standards. And of course, lead guitarist and (I guess) figurehead Michael Keene’s ego seemed to be getting in the way of the band’s future. So it’s pretty safe to say that I was approaching In Becoming a Ghost
with much more caution than usual. Luckily, I’m pleased to report that my fears have mostly been erased.
In Becoming a Ghost
is largely defined by a more cinematic, progressive identity than its predecessors, and it can be considered the band’s furthest removed from their original sound. But, bizarrely enough, this isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think. The experimentation is wrapped up in song structures and lyrical themes that are both engaging and tight, and the progressive elements serve more to bolster the atmosphere than be an excuse to noodle around. As if the haunting piano part of the intro title track wasn’t cool enough, we get to hear some killer tech-death flute melodies (!) and full-on symphonic passages in its followup “Digging the Grave.” That’s not to say the aggression is absent, though; Abigail Williams vocalist Ken Sorceron is more than enough to fill the shoes of Derek Rydquist with his strong mix of guttural growls and black metal shrieks. The riffs are still quite punishing in parts too, especially in the killer tremolo-picked riff that kicks of “The Spiralling Void.” But the difference between this album and Autotheism
is that it seems to have more purpose
to it. I get the sense that the band members genuinely put their all into this one, and that they really wanted to experiment around with what they thought was cool. Oftentimes, the framework surrounding the riffs is just as interesting as the riffs themselves, such as the weird staccato bass stabs that dance around the guitar intro of “I Am” or the deranged orchestral breaks in “Shake the Disease.” As for the problems with the album, I only have two major ones. One is, as in Autotheism
, that Michael Keene’s voice gets way too much time in the spotlight. Remember when his voice would pop up very sparingly in Planetary Duality
to add a little extra atmosphere and variety? Well, he sings in just about every track here. And, simply put, his voice is just boring. His inflections make him sound uninterested with the subject matter, and he draws attention away from the far superior performances of Ken Sorceron. Also, while the band’s technical skills are still impressive, the riffs aren’t the most memorable around. This has been a problem with past Faceless records, but sometimes the band get so caught up in their experimentation and technicality that their riffs don’t really stick with you very well. But maybe that’s because In Becoming a Ghost
will need a bit more time to sink in. Regardless, it’s impressive what they accomplished here. It seems as though the band are getting closer to fully realizing their potential as a progressive death metal band; it’s just time that they tightened up their songcraft... and perhaps let Michael Keene stick to just his guitar playing and songwriting.