Truly talented metal artists are easy to spot: just watch bands whose new albums longtime fans claim “suck” because the band “sold out” and “used to be heavy.” But few things in metal please me more than watching that process unfold. We gave Faceless’ mastermind Michael Keene a good bit of grief for what seemed like an endless series of delays, but it was all worth the wait. Autotheism has caused quite a stir since its release, but let me tell you something: it’s an absolute masterpiece, albeit one that’s still a work in progress toward Michael Keene’s ultimate goal.

Keene spends so much time on this album singing (cleanly), especially in its first half, that I wonder why he even bothers keeping a growler in the band at all (as for who that growler is on any given day, it obviously doesn’t matter much as long as it’s someone). So he doesn’t alienate the band’s core fanbase? So he can have a hypeman in the live setting who isn’t tied down by an instrument? Because he still enjoys heavy riffing on occasion? Keene’s voice is full of emotion, nuance and versatility — almost Mike Patton-esque at times — and furthers the feelings the music conveys. There is no reason he shouldn’t be singing all the time, because he’s clearly good enough to. I’d love to hear his voice even more than we already do on Autotheism.

The music Keene’s scripted for himself to sing over, for its part, is gorgeously crafted through and through. The three-track “Autotheism” movement that opens the album may even surpass the two-part “Planetary Duality” opus as the band’s greatest recorded moment. The guitar lines are crisp, the vocals soaring, the melodies catchy, the compositions varied and dynamic, all oozing with an innate understanding of what makes good music. The only moments when things get boring on Autotheism are those when they get heavy and growly; it feels like Keene’s doing it just for the sake of doing it. This happens from time to time during Autotheism’s second half — the songs therein are not bad at all, and they’re still distinctly Faceless, but it’s just like, dude, we’ve heard this stuff before (both from The Faceless and others). But even those songs are executed with a flare and aplomb atypical of most metal bands.

Maybe the inherent compromises on Autotheism are all part of Keene’s longterm master plan. Best I can figure, this is the middle record in Keene’s transformation of The Faceless from a proggy deathcore band to total prog rock masters, the necessary “B” stopping point between origin “A” and destination “C.” Making the jump from A to C all at once would just be too much for the band’s fanbase to handle, too risky, too severe; conservative metalheads (read: most metalheads) need to be goaded and shepharded into new directions one step at a time. Perhaps four years from now Keene will take the final step into full-on prog rock bliss, and that will surely be a great moment in music. Maybe he’ll also finally ditch the gutturals, take over full-time vocalist duty and rename the band “The Michael Keene Show,” which is obviously what The Faceless is anyway. Lucky for us, Autotheism has given us a fantastic album in the transition, too.


(four and a half horns out of five)


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