Review Summary: In Becoming A Ghost has something interesting to say, but it's all mumbles and incoherence underneath a cloth hood.
The Faceless are a band whose name represents them rather well. Starting their career as a rather nuanced, technical deathcore act with 2006's Akeldama, they slowly worked out most of the core-isms with their immediate followup, 2008's excellent Planetary Duality. There, the band brought together progressive and technical compositions that few could surpass, and challenged a generation of douchebags to create spooky and obtuse soundscapes some would call "Aliencore". Things changed drastically afterwards, however, and while I won't get into 'The Michael Keene Show' debacle, most of what came afterwards was written directly by him, and the band's sound changed drastically as a result. Gone were most of the aggressive tendencies, narrowing the band's primary influence to mainly Opeth, with a particular focus on the leading man's rather mundane clean vox. 2012's Autotheism, while sometimes interesting and showed the band was ever-evolving, felt lite on actual character. It felt devoid of passion or clarity, rarely reaching the upper echelons of the band's previous works.
It was a differing work, nonetheless. Throughout the band's discography, it has become more and more apparent that Michael Keene's intent is to radically alter the band's DNA between releases, and, after 5 years of waiting, In Becoming A Ghost drops as a fairly foreign entity - for better and definitely for worse.
Straight from the self-titled intro, it's apparent that the narrative structure is one of the most important aspects of the album. Michael Keene, however, delivers a lackluster spoken word segment over what I will imagine is a Fruity Loops repeated segment, and sounds uncomfortable and poorly timed. The cheap symphonics remind me of something you'd hear in a haunted house attraction, and immediately deflate all the expectations from the jump. There's definitely intent to the piece, but it's obscured behind such a thick layer of hoakiness that it's almost impossible to take seriously. Fortunately, besides the second side's cloying Ghost Reprise these thematic ties do run stronger throughout, finding new and rich conceptual chambers not previously explored within the band's sound. 2012's Autotheism seems to be the album's most obvious influence, and that'll make sense considering Keene has entirely written both. It's probably also why both have infinitely more issues, but I digress.
The first part of this conceptual record is particularly strong minus its hilarious opening, with the first actual track, Digging The Grave, being one of the most potent songs the band has written since Planetary Duality - as well as the most surprising. New harsh vocalist, Abigail William's Ken Sorceron, immediately erupts into the cut, bringing with him some aggressive and excellent riffs that project it forward at an exhilarating pace. The song cycles for a time before shifting gears and allowing Keene to croon over some lighter instrumentation before the whole song explodes back into darker metallic riffs and flutes for some strange reason. The bombast continues to build until, inevitably, there's a tasty flute solo underpinned by symphonic keyboards, and, where the opening sequence seemed poorly designed and far too on the nose, this somehow feels less so. It works on several levels and, despite some bizarre mixing decisions (which we'll most certainly get to), feels well-developed and interesting.
The tracks afterward follow a similar style of misdirection, melding progressive and technical components with slight touches of avant-garde, keeping the album moving along at a good pace. Things seem to be going quite well. Could the intro have been an anomaly, you contemplate"
That's a negative ghost-rider.
Things go immediately off the rails with Shake The Disease, aÂ*bizarre Depeche Mode cover, which starts a trend of throwing hundreds of failed ideas together with noÂ* sense of sound songwriting. Don't let music critics fool you into believing that it's so immensely deep that it'll take dozens of listens to fully comprehend; it's just shoddily written at its simplest and most primitive. It won't take advanced calculus for you to comprehend the base issue. There was clearly a troubled development period behind the album and the second half is all the evidence you need. I Am has a stop-start, jerky chorus that feels clumsily integrated into the piece. (Instru)mental Madness is quite literally a piece of a song; specifically, a tangent series of solos with no beginning nor end. The Terminal Breath plods along on industrial influences, feigning atmospherics. And that's the last track on the album.
I can't recall an album in recent times that has gone this far off the rails. Hell, we're not even in the same theme park anymore. We're soaring out over the parking lot wondering if the passerby think we're ***ing Saint Nick. And that's immensely disappointing, especially given the immense songwriting quality that The Faceless have always delivered in the past.
I can only imagine that my irritations with the album, and it's admittedly *** second half, would be sufficient write up to round out a particularly scathing review. Unfortunately, we still need to discuss the production, which, in a breath, is not good. I was told that Sumerian Records released this album, but I still looked it up anyways because I was convinced after listening to it that it was self-released. There's no way someone got paid to produce this. Everything is flat, tinny, awkwardly placed, and obnoxious. Remember how I said Digging The Grave was well written" Yeah, not so much well mixed. The orchestral components that make up the second half are either so shrill that they hurt your ears or extremely brittle and clumsily positioned in the sonic space. There isn't a song on here not damaged by the production "decisions", though I'm willing to bet this comes down to the troubled composing period. It's not an excuse for it though. It is arduous to consistently listen to.
So what else needs said" In Becoming A Ghost has something interesting to say, but it's all mumbles and incoherence underneath a cloth hood. Michael Keene has a definite objective behind the album - and the band, on a grander scale - but the end product absolutely positively does not deliver you that message. I imagine that constant change in direction was the band's naming imperative, but here it just makes me think "forgettable", and that's a damn shame.
4 concerned producers losing sleep over the enigma that is the flute/10
Originally written for HEAVY META! reviews: https://heavymetareviews.wordpress.com/