It is difficult to make up one's mind about which to love for most on "Akeldama," the debut album from California-bred progressive/technical death metal champs The Faceless: The guitar work, the bass playing, or the drumming. All of them come into play and play an integral role in this album, but that can pretty much be expected when the songs are as insanely technical and complex as these. (You wouldn't expect any less coming from, say, Brain Drill, Origin, and/or Beneath The Massacre, now would you?)
The guitar work is just flat-out dizzying. Michael Keene and Steve Jones produce some shredding that is likely to get wanna-be axemen everywhere wanting to chop of their own hands in frustration -- yes, it is that unbelievably technical and fast. But they do come up with innumerable memorable parts, too, including great riffs and totally air-guitar-able solos. Elsewhere, the drumming is excellent, as well. Out of the four drummers that The Faceless used on this album (Andy Taylor, Bret Batdorf, Navene Koperweis, and Nick Pierce), none of them are household names, but one could certainly make a case for all them deserving to be in that they each come up with some really amazing stuff, here. And finally, bassist Brandon Griffin is also noteworthy because he comes up with some of the most technical and all-around astounding bass lines that money can buy.
With that said, though, "Akeldama" is also noteworthy from the keyboardist's perspective, as he turns out some symphonic black metal-influenced keyboard lines that are comparable to the likes of Born Of Osiris and Hollenthon. And top the whole thing off with some killer vocals (Derek Rydquist allows for just enough vocal variation over the course of these eight songs to produce memorable parts and refrains), and a crisp and thunderous production job, and the end result is easily one of the best extreme metal albums of 2006, and quite possibly said year's most impressive debut, as well.
Beginning with a bang, a mind-boggling drum intro slams into pummeling gravity-blast territory laced with blistering riffs. The guitar work is truly virtuosic, dizzying, and nearly seemingly impossible throughout the opener, "An Autopsy," as is evidenced by its fluid sweeps, blazing leads, and a beautiful, crystalline-sounding harmonic solo to end. "Pestilence" continues showing off the band's blistering ways, cranking out a smoke-inducing interplay between the machine-gun riffage and jackhammer-fast drum blasts. As a monotony breaker, the song slips in a ripping melodic guitar solo and tactful clean backing vocal line for good measure. But these things are then replaced by nimble-fingered guitar picking, frenetic blasting, and near goregrind-esque pig squeal vocals. Some thunderous breakdowns and a solid, grumbling bass bottom are also included, here.
And from that point on, from the all-out assault of grindcore brutality that is "All Dark Graves" (which is fueled by mind-blowing, gravity-defying drum fills, blowtorch buzzsaw riffing, and technical, melodic bass grooves), to the bass-driven closer that is "The Ghost Of A Stranger" (which is almost astounding from the bassist's point of view, as it features several excellent bass solos, propulsive fills, and technically-impressive, slapped bass lines), the uber-complex and technical death metal onslaught almost never relents. Almost. It does sporadically give the listener a chance to catch his or her breath through its use of Necrophagist-worthy, classical music-influenced melodical solos. And plus, the title song, is a huge standout track on account of it being an anomaly. This very epic, complicated, and progressive piece pushes the six minute mark as it weaves in some excellent bass soloing and even greater, and jazzier, prog-ish guitar soloing into its trippy mix of industrial-like, Cynic/"Catch 33"-era Meshuggah-reminiscent knick-knacks (including frequent cyber-esque clicks and splatters).
The album's two other biggest highlights are track numbers five and six, "Horizons Of Chaos: Hypocrisy" and "Leica." The former is highlighted by a mind-boggling introductory drum solo and a thin layer of near orchestral-sounding keyboards, as well as some extra harsh death metal growling and occasional metalcore-flavored breakdowns. And the latter blasts off with a bang, in true Faceless fashion, with fiery, chugging riffs and a hailstorm of cracking hyperblasts. A catchy, rhythmic, galloping beat is also included, here, as are several thunderous breakdowns. But "Leica" is mostly of note for featuring a section where it downshifts to nearly doomy and plodding territory. And all the while this is going on, the aforementioned frontman (Rydquist) is proving his worth as one of extreme metal's most elite new pig squealers, spilling out one Dying Fetus-esque burp after another on the microphone. The song also lets rip a couple of excellent, and deliciously clean guitar solos, including one especially sweet, mazy, winding, and jazzy solo that blends in perfectly with the tune's swift keyboard runs. This is all before, however, the track switches back to brutal, blast beaten deathgrind chaos.
So, as you can clearly see, "Akeldama" is one heckuva monster of an album! It is innovative and interesting/experimental enough to move the death metal, progressive metal, and grindcore genres forward while simultaneously being familiar-sounding enough to give all seasoned metalheads something tangible to sink their teeth into. With "Akeldama," it is easy to see why The Faceless are one of heavy music's most influential new bands. And thus, this record puts this band in good stead to give Carolina's Between The Buried And Me a healthy dose of competition for being one of the premier progressive-extreme metal groups of the new millennium.