The Faceless, up until fairly recently, have been best known as a somewhat enigmatic yet immensely influential progressive/technical death metal project led by guitarist/vocalist Michael Keene. The spotlight shone on the group has been less about The Faceless’ musical accomplishments as of late, though. Whether their extramusical affairs affect your enjoyment or support of the group is of course your decision as an informed audience, but today, I will focus on the substance that gave The Faceless a platform in the first place: their music. In Becoming A Ghost, out December 1 on Sumerian Records, is The Faceless’ first record in five years, and the much-anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Autotheism.
Musically, The Faceless have never shied away from theatricality, but their embrace of dramatic macabre is no more apparent than on the title track and interlude that opens In Becoming A Ghost. Delicate yet dark keys flow with an undercurrent of symphonic swells. I immediately latched onto this orchestral element, which is continued in some of the following tracks, but was hesitant regarding the melodramatic spoken word section that accompanies it. Nonetheless, at only a minute in, we quickly get exposure to the more metallic elements of The Faceless with “Digging The Grave”. The surprisingly orchestral and blackened twist is a welcome update on the group’s existing progressive death metal approach, and sets an experimental tone that purveys the rest of the record.
Where the singles from the record showcase a sound mostly consistent with previous The Faceless material, it is songs like “Cup of Mephistopheles” and “Shake The Disease” that show some experimentation and growth in the group’s sound. The former incorporates somewhat industrial, metallic samples alongside Keene’s creepy crooning, whereas “Shake The Disease” (which is a Depeche Mode cover, by the way) has an unabashedly hooky chorus that bubbles out over industrial percussion, oddly paired electric organs, and classic The Faceless riffage. These outside elements, in addition to the previously mentioned orchestral and black metal influences, give In Becoming A Ghost a suitably haunting character. It is this experimental and eerie atmosphere that sets the release apart from others in The Faceless’ catalog.
The ten tracks on the record, though mostly strong, end in a somewhat rushed manner. The three songs that close In Becoming A Ghost scurry towards its conclusion, with a one-minute interlude that revisits the album opener, a brief instrumental, and denouement “The Terminal Breath” speeding through the album’s third act. Jarring electronic percussion again introduces the concluding track, before a mid-tempo groove and Devin Townsend-esque chorus carry it to the album’s untimely end.
Each of the four releases in The Faceless’ thirteen-year career have a deliberate identity that builds upon previous albums. In Becoming A Ghost is no different. Previous records cemented The Faceless as a force of relentless technicality and conceptual ambition, but In Becoming A Ghost seems less preoccupied with technicality, and more with experimental influences and melody. I have few criticisms for the songs themselves; they seem mostly well-executed and innovative without alienating existing fans. However, the pacing seems somewhat shaky and hurried, especially for a record that took five years to come to fruition. Interludes seem disjointed from surrounding tracks, similar songs are placed together, and the closing third of the record seems anxious to exit our ears. Regardless, The Faceless have crafted a record that is a solid addition to their illustrious career, and adds new elements to their sound while maintaining their sonic identity.
Notable Tracks: “Digging The Grave”; “Black Star”
FFO: The Zenith Passage, Carach Angren