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The Faceless - Autotheism CD (album) cover

AUTOTHEISM

The Faceless

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.27 | 28 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
2 stars 'Autotheism' - The Faceless (41/100)

Above anything else, The Faceless' Autotheism is a problematic album. I did enjoy Planetary Duality quite a bit, and there are plenty of moments on Autotheism that recall The Faceless' past achievements. The central style finds itself at a crossroads between modern tech death and Dream Theater-variety progressive metal; the mention of that combination alone should spark some doubts, but The Faceless can, and often do make it work in their favour. Having just recently seen them headline the 2014 Summer Slaughter tour with the likes of Archspire, Rings of Saturn etc., there's no doubt The Faceless can bring it to the table in terms of sheer technical instrumentation. The guitars entwine excellently with Lyle Cooper's drumwork, and the guitars navigate the album's more challenging parts with style. That's not what's wrong with Autotheism.

I usually love it when bands put a progressive, or unexpected swing on a genre like tech death- most of the time it gives the music a tinge of spontaneity that may have otherwise been lost in the sea of sweeps and robotic notation. The Faceless have certainly made themselves out to be a band who takes the road less travelled in terms of technical death metal. Allusions to Dream Theater, multi-part epics and clean vocals are all well-off the beaten path for the style. It should by all means work, but by the end of Autotheism I'm left thinking like the album might have been best contained within the tech death sphere. The Faceless remain good at what they know, but whenever there's a detour, the vision feels undercooked.

There's no better example of this than the multi-part suite and title piece. In keeping with the other less-successful prog epics I've heard, "Autotheism" offers up some interesting ideas, but ultimately falls apart under its own weight. There is ambition but no coherence, nothing to congeal the epic together as a definitive musical statement. If a band is intent on devoting a third of their album to a composition, I would hope I would leave it with a strong impression of the band's sound. After a pseudo-orchestral overture, The Faceless proceed to follow the footsteps of metal genius Devin Townsend's style for several minutes (clean vocals and all) before finally diving into the prog death they're most comfortable with. As much as I love Devin Townsend, any imitators (of which there are several) I've heard fall far short of what they no doubt set out to accomplish. Devin's style was exciting because it was completely his. In the case of Autotheism, The Faceless seem to cling to their interpretation of his style, not least obvious of all being Michael Keene's halfhearted clean vocals, which seem kept afloat only through a mountain of harmonizing and post-prod effects. By the suite's second movement, things begin to pick up and we hear some good riffs, but it's not long before the suite reverts back to the same plodding pace and weak prog cliches.

Particularly in the third movement "Deconsecrate", it becomes obvious that The Faceless lack the personality and sincerity to pull off a lot of these progressive sections. Hearing the band perform their Townsend facsimile felt disingenuous enough, but the weirdest moments- most notably being a carnivalesque section wherein Keene croons "God is dead"- feel forced and joyless, as if The Faceless suddenly became aware they were taking themselves too seriously, but couldn't get themselves out of a rut in time before the epic finished. On the topic of serious things, it doesn't seem like The Faceless think atheism is any joke. They remind us of this stance in virtually every song and- all beliefs aside- their way of handling the subject in their music is possibly the most awful thing about the album. Whenever they're not depending on worn expressions and cliches in their lyrics, they're preaching some holier-than-thou New Atheist sanctimony that makes Christian rock look tolerable by comparison. I'm all onboard with iconoclasm and supposed free-thinking, but The Faceless' ideology seems to be directly in line with the "In this moment, I am euphoric" brand of online atheist crusaders who, I can only imagine, polish their Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens shrines in between bouts of cosplay internet porn. My own views on religion (or, more specifically, the hypocriticism of New Atheism) certainly paint this element of The Faceless in a more negative light than it may be for others, but take a track like "Hail Science" (kill me now), an interlude not unlike Radiohead's "Fitter Happier", only with an extra helping of cringeworthy anti- religious sentiment. From this and other sets of lyrics, I get the impression that The Faceless (like many of the fedora-bound internet gremlins you'll find lurking on the forums) place the blame of all human ills and indecency on religion and belief in a God that doesn't exist. If The Faceless agree with me that God is most likely a fabrication, then they should also acknowledge that it must be somewhere in human nature itself for people to do these shitty, ignorant things to one another. If God is truly dead, then we have only ourselves to blame.

At the album's best, Autotheism flirts with better-than-average tech death riffery and suggests some great potential in the prog metal sector as well. Each time I've finished listening through the album however, I can think of more problems I have with the album than things I enjoyed. If I may be diplomatic here, it's clear that The Faceless took a big risk in putting so much of the album aside to jump outside their shell and explore musically. That achievement feels dull in context when it ultimately just appears like they've jumped inside another shell, of a more uncompromising and visionary artist than they themselves are. The songwriting is generally bland and forgettable, and the concept is idiotic. I never thought I'd say this, but give me straight up tech death over this any day.

Conor Fynes | 2/5 |

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