Four unexpectedly long years after releasing their sophomore outing in 2008's "Planetary Duality," Californian progressive death metal masters The Faceless return with a long-overdue junior effort in 2012's "Autotheism." This album flexes the band's progressive muscle even more than what was heard from them previously, and as anybody who has heard the group's prior two full-lengths would attest, that is REALLY saying something!
"Autotheism" is both familiar and experimental. It weaves in just the right amount of new-ish-sounding elements to make it a substantial creative and musical step forward for the band, while simultaneously being brutal and intense enough to satisfy old-school fans. The main experimental aspect of this album is that it is proof of the fact that Cattle Decapitation were not the only extreme metal-outfit to flirt with clean vocals in 2012. (Yes, you read that correctly -- there are several spots of clean singing heard throughout this forty-one minute playing time!) And plus, with the first three songs forming a trilogy of sorts (they all begin with the word "Autotheist"), and noteworthy lyrics (which are, in a large part, having to do with God and religion) present, this appears to be a concept album.
But don't get your knickers in a twist just yet, because despite these experimental touches, The Faceless still prove themselves to be masters of technical thrash riffing, triggered gravity blasts, brutal, Dying Fetus-ish vocals, and extremely melodic and crystalline-sounding solos that are nothing if not derived straight out of the progressive music playbook. (Think Necrophagist, Dream Theater, Journey, In Flames, and Iron Maiden, and you'll get the general gist as to what the solos sound like.)
The album begins on a calm note, with "Autotheist Movement 1: Create" being an ominous symphonic music intro piece accompanied by vocals that trade-off between clean singing and brutal death metal growls. It all makes for a very chilling and portentous opener, even if it is not an overly-exciting one. (Indeed, all things considered, "Create" is kind of boring, thus making it kind of surprising and curious that The Faceless would make it the album's very first song.) But what this track is lacking in energy, the succeeding "Emancipate" makes up for ten fold. It is one frenetic number, let me tells ya!, and is driven mainly by blistering, staccato riffing and jackhammer-fast percussion battery. It does weave in some nicely melodic vocals, and also dabbles with exotically jazzy guitar leads and solos; but for the most part, this is a brutal beast of a song. And this is evidenced by a positively airtight guitar-drum interplay throughout its epic, nearly seven-and-a-half minute-long playing time.
Later on, "Deconsecrate" (and much later, "In Solitude") both begin sounding not unlike an Opeth ballad, the former with accomplished clean vocals and the latter with a proggy, strings `n' all arrangement. But around the ninety second mark, both pieces morph into thunderous riffs and hyperspeed blast-laden chaos. "Accelerated Evolution" sounds overall quite similar, too, in that it is mainly centered around pummeling grindcore hyperblasts and Nile-esque riff chunks, but it is offset by some decent clean backing vocals. And "The Eidolon Reality" continues down this same road, with near Avenged Sevenfold-worthy crooning and soaring melodic leads making the track feel like an epic one, even if it is less than four minutes in length.
The final three songs that round out the album are all noteworthy, too. "Ten Billion Years" is a standout for being a completely mid-tempo venture with tasty guitar melodies, relatively slow and/or restrained riffs, and more Opeth-ian clean singing. Then comes "Hail Science," a terrifically trippy interlude that finds Steven Hawking's voice (or, at the very least, a spot-on impersonator) spouting noteworthy lyrics. And back on bludgeoning territory, "Hymn Of Sanity" is an extremely concise and compact, ninety-second-or-so long blast of more furious riffing and double bass drumming.
While the energy coursing throughout "Autotheism" is a little bit more on the live and organic side of the line (especially when compared to "Planetary Duality"), the band's instrumental-interplay in this album is still a little too tight to be believable. With that having been said, though, let it be known that The Faceless mostly bring the goods for "Autotheism." It is one that is experimental, viscerally satisfying, engaging, exciting, unpredictable, and bah-roo-tal record -- and what's not to like about any of that?!