Autotheism is the third full-length studio album by US death metal act The Faceless. The album was released in 2012. The Faceless have left a quite large gap between this and their previous release Planetary Duality (2008), and in that time much of their line-up has changed with only Michael Keene (guitars, keyboards, clean vocals) and Lyle Cooper (drums) performing on both releases.
And while they haven’t moved away from the death metal genre, their style within death metal has shifted in that time as well. Planetary Duality was a technical death metal album that had, like many within the genre, some progressive leanings but nothing so major that what progressiveness the album had went beyond anything more than flavour. Autotheism on the other hand is a progressive death metal release, albeit one that does keep the technical element of its predecessor intact. Ultimately though, Autotheism is a very different sounding death metal album.
The album kicks off with a three part suite of songs called Autotheist Movement. It’s basically one long track and the best showcase the album has to offer on how much more progressive the band has become between releases. Those familiar with Planetary Duality will no doubt note that Michael Keene is performing a lot more clean vocals on the album, sometimes to the point where he can be considered a co-vocalist with new frontman Geoffrey Ficco rather than the occasional secondary vocalist he came across as on the previous album. He’s even the first voice you hear during Autotheist Movement I: Create. You’ll be almost two minutes in before you even hear Geoffrey Ficco’s death growl, which is pretty damn good I must note, perfect for the kind of music that The Faceless play. During Autotheist Movement I: Create though, it’s very clear that Michael Keene is the main vocalist.
Create may be the shortest movement of the suite, but it’s all that’s needed for The Faceless to assert themselves as a progressive band. Things get more death metal like for Autotheist Movement II: Emancipate, with Geoffrey Ficco taking over the lead vocal role, but still very progressive and featuring Michael Keene’s voice in what can only be described as role reversal after the approach taken on Create. Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate stirs things up even further with some of the infamous prog circus sounds, and a saxophone. Autotheist Movement is very much top tier progressive death metal in my book.
The trouble with the album as a whole though, is that it does feel that The Faceless put everything they had into Autotheist Movement, so once it ends, it does feel as if the album lost a bit of its steam. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still talking pretty high quality prog/tech death metal, but Autotheism is definitely one case where an album can’t keep up with its own high standard set by the very best it has to offer. The thing is, what follows Autotheist Movement is still high quality material, but after being wowed by that suite the rest is just rather underwhelming, so much that despite this material having its own strengths, my enjoyment of the album as a whole actually suffers a bit.
I think, despite that, I do actually prefer Autotheism to Planetary Duality, at least by a small margin, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel a bit of disappoint in the album because if the whole thing had been on the level of Autotheist Movement, then I’d easily have rated this one in the top tier, not to mention counted it among my favourite death metal releases, but as it is, the highest I can reasonable give it is a high end ‘great album’ tier rating. A part of me wants to push that score up just that little bit more into the ‘exceptional’ grade range, but I can’t ignore that feeling of being underwhelmed that I mentioned, which ultimately decided which side of the grade boundary this one fell. Autotheism is still highly recommendable prog/tech death metal, I’d even go as far to say it’s worth owning for that suite alone, but I’ll be hoping the next The Faceless makes an album it maintains a consistency for top tier death metal which Autotheism certainly showed them capable of.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))