The Faceless are a bit of a divisive band, to say the least.
Frontman Michael Keene is one of the more consistently criticized faces in death metal. Whether it’s persistent rumors that he’s an unreliable heroin junkie, or the band missing tours because of missing equipment and sudden personnel changes, there is always some reason that people have for saying they’re “done with the Faceless.”
Then they put out a new record, and every time, it’s an instant and genre-defining classic. This does nothing to placate the haters, but it does give us all some incredible metal to listen to.
It’s been five long, long years since the last time that happened – 2012’s Autotheism, which was both more progressive and more fully realized than the records that came before it, and therefore more controversial. Keene’s clean vocals, the longer songs, the flavors of mid-career Opeth and Exivious all managed to piss off a lot of people, but the record is generally well-regarded in the death metal world.
So, how’s the new one?
Well, it’s excellent.
It’s the longest Faceless record, though only by a few minutes. With the exception of two rather out-of-place feeling spoken word interludes, every song here stands on it’s own while also serving as a piece of a more coherent whole. Folks who are waiting for a return to the pure tech-deathery of Planetary Duality are never going to get it, as Keene is clearly more focused on writing whole songs than just cobbling great riffs together. On the whole, this album is more progressive and contains more influences than anything else the Faceless have released. By turns symphonic, blackened, progressive and technical, it’s a masterwork of substance over style.
Thematically, the album represents the most personal Keene has ever gotten on a Faceless album. Addiction, loneliness, despair and death are all explored pretty thoroughly. Cathartic, introspective, and unmistakably written by Michael Keene, it still represents an evolution of sound that a lot of bands seem to be actively avoiding these days.
Overall, if you’re into progressive death metal at all, this album is an absolute must have. For the folks who are more about constant blast beats and technical accomplishment, there’s the new Archspire.
It isn’t half as good as this, though.
The vocal performance of Ken Sorceron (ex-Abigail Williams) is incredible throughout, providing an emotional and compelling counter to Keene’s bleak croons. The drumming of Chason Westmoreland (now of the excellent band Equipoise, that you all need to check out) is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a progressive death metal band. Creative, dynamic, and impressive as shit. His performance is a highlight of the album.
In the end, if you like The Faceless, you’ll love this album. If you cried about the clean vocals and down-tempo moments on Autotheism, you’re gonna die holding your breath for Planetary Duality 2.
Overall rating: 9/10 (woulda been ten if those weird spoken word tracks weren’t there, or if Keene has busted out the old vocoder for them instead of the faux British accent)
Best Song: Cup of Mephistopheles, Shake the Disease (DEPECHE MODE COVER FTW), The Terminal Breath. Take your pick, but they’re all bangers.