Autotheism is a highfaluting term pertaining to the deification of one-self, and it’s also the name bestowed upon the long-awaited follow-up to the lauded, Planetary Duality. It is a fitting title in view of the fact that vocalist Derek Rydquist, bassist Brandon Griffin, and guitarist Steve Jones have all departed in the four years between albums, leaving Keene standing alone as the chief orchestrator and founding member of the Faceless. To his credit, Keene has re-assembled the band efficiently, replacing the talents of the past with equally proficient musicians: vocalist Geoffrey Ficco, bassist Evan Brewer (Reflux/Animosity), guitarist Wes Hauch, and Lyle Cooper (who has manned the drums since the Planetary Duality days).
Taking into consideration such upheaval, Autotheism is audacious in its quest to move away from the hyper-technical death metal that the Faceless have, up to now, based their career on. It is a step into the unknown for a band which is evidently trying to forge a new identity—by travelling into sonic space where few have dared to venture, and even fewer have succeeded in making their own. The emotionless, ultra-modern production and blinding, technical musicianship — overpowering in its ability to suspend disbelief — has been modified in favour of stylistic choices that have more in common with the genre-bending of Between the Buried and Me, than the tactics employed by their nimble-fingered brethren in Origin, Brain Drill et al.
This bold re-alignment can be heard from the first note of the fleeting dance of keys and semi-symphonic accoutrements that herald the beginning of “Autotheist Movement I: Create”, bringing a slight sparkle of drama to the first movement of an ambitious three-part suite. “Create” resembles nothing if not an honest to goodness rock song — with more than a glint of Alice in Chains’ dark afterglow. It is a judgment maker for those familiar with the work of the Faceless, and its controlled tempo and clean vocals are liable to betray those expecting constant, exhilarating density. “Autotheist Movement II: Emancipate” and the final part of this seventeen minute suite, “Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate”, are equally adept at attention grabbing and less conflicting than “Create” — especially when compared to songs on the first two albums. Saying this, the blasting drums, cortex-shattering riffs, and dexterous lead work, are the only real signifiers of the past. For the most part, these two movements centre around derivative passages that make it hard to avoid playing the “name that band” game, including: the jazzy side-steps of Cynic; the weirdness of Mr. Bungle; unwinding saxophone and sections of clean vocals riding on top of blast-beats — synonymous with Ihsahn’s solo output; and even some Opeth-ian grace found in the interplay between guitar and piano at the beginning of “Deconsecrate”. Sadly, such obvious idolatry is extremely distracting, hard to ignore, and difficult to look past.
The songs that follow — “Accelerated Evolution” and “The Eidolon Reality” — are more in line with the form of old, with Ficco really asserting his presence by swiftly spitting his growls with a ferocious thirst. Those who disliked Keene’s nasally vocals on “Sons of Belial” from Planetary Duality will definitely struggle with his grating chorus on “The Eidolon Reality”. It’s a prime example of unnecessarily overloading a structurally sound arrangement — the music which accompanies his halting singing losses the momentum that the first part of the song had garnered. However, no such criticism can be levelled at “Hymn of Sanity”. It is death-metal at its most concise, lasting no longer than your average grindcore track, and proving to be just as lethal.
By the album finale, the Faceless sound as if they are about to find their feet. “In Solitude”‘s opening coda lays Keene’s strongest vocals on a bed of ruminative, clean guitars, before those complex cosmos-searching riffs and blasts takes over. The remainder of the song is just as interesting, especially the vocal interchanges between Keene and Ficco that appear midway, not to mention the guitar solo near the end, which tastefully emulates the vocal melody found at the beginning. Over the 38 minutes that comprises Autotheism, the Faceless do show glimpses of natural genius and their musical chops can not be questioned. Even so, the overall feeling that this album struggles to slip free of new found influences to resonate in its own right, will not fade. Unlike Between the Buried and Me (who balance their song-writing so that their influences disappear into the background), the Faceless are unable to prevent the presence of their inspiration from overshadowing their attempts at originality. Should the Faceless manifest the skills necessary to mask their muse, they may actually realize the potential they clearly possess.