The Faceless are still a young band but, over the course of their first two albums, their name became fitting in ways they can't have wanted. Technical death metal in the vein of Necrophagist, Fleshgod Apocalypse and Origin was the order of the day - blistering, mathematical, and, unfortunately, unoriginal. There was no denying the talent of the guys involved, but the music they were offering was nothing new. Don't misunderstand - it was good music, and well worth a listen for fans of the genre, but it felt like the band was merely imitating their favourites, rather than trying to find their own voice. Faceless indeed.
So, after a four year absence, more of the same for third album Autotheism? No, yet also in some ways yes, but all for the positive. Bear with me, I'll explain. Guitarist, vocalist and founding member Michael Keene has clearly expanded his musical boundaries (and listened to a lot of Devin Townsend) since previous album Planetary Duality, and the band is all the better for it.
Whilst ostensibly still a tech-death band, the amount of progressive touches present in Autotheism make it difficult to pin the album to a single genre. Clean vocals, frequent use of orchestral strings, slow sections, simple guitar melodies - all things that are nowhere to be found in the band's back catalogue, but are abundant here. The result is a record that, to begin with, does not even sound like The Faceless. A great example of this is the opening track, "Autotheist Movement I: Create", which features all the above elements, but nothing resembling the band's old style.
The progressive influences are frequent throughout the record, with a circus-esque, saxaphone-backed interlude on "Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate" being one of the most memorable. However, this is still, for the most part, a technical death metal album. Every moment of prog metal weirdness is sandwiched between classic Faceless face-ripping.
This contrast is the key that keeps the album fresh and interesting throughout. Technical death metal can be a polarizing genre. Some people love the
mathematical precision and level of skill on display, others
dismiss it as the ultimate example of non-musical instrumental wankery. I've always been a fan of the genre myself, (I love Arsis in particular and hell, I even like Behold... The Arctopus) but i find that too much of it at once can become a little mind-numbing, waning my concentration. Autotheism solves this problem by mixing things up often enough to keep my short-attention span focused, but not so much that the songs become jumbled mash-ups of unrelated ideas.
The band's habit of mimicking their peers hasn't completely subsided, and the Devin Townsend influence on show throughout Autotheism at times
borders on plagarism. Keene's clean vocals in particular are almost
identical. Two minutes into track 2, "Autotheist Movement II:
Emancipate" is a section that is so similar stylistically that I had to check and make
sure my itunes hadn't switched to a Devin song somehow. It's a shame that the band has yet to totally find their own voice, but broadening the amount of musicians they like to copy is still a step in the right direction. And honestly, sounding like Devin Townsend is never a bad thing.
So, more of the same? Not really. Autotheism is a 40-minute progressive tech-death good time, thoroughly entertaining throughout and never boring. I strongly recommend it.