Music is ever an industry of personalities. Music is ever a game of wills and influence. Indeed, even in the depths of death metal, the rules remain relatively unchanged, despite the desperate desires of many to exist outside of them. Music demands fierce will to guide fierce talent, and where those two find confluence, so too can be found the foundations of excellence, of greatness and ingenuity. One such personality, much discussed and somewhat controversial, is Michael Keene. Keene is clearly a man of talent, clearly a man of intellect and ambition. And yet, five years have passed since the release of Autotheism. While Rome wasn’t built in a day, it only took four years to build the Aurelian Walls. Unfortunately, THE FACELESS seem beset by a plague of revolving doors. The list of undeniably talented musicians that have been and gone in the past half-decade leaves one to suspect that personalities in the music industry are much like lighthouses at sea; a bright light in the dark, but all ships will steer clear.
However, a new album has finally arrived. In Becoming a Ghost takes no pause in showing the listener that this album is firmly routed in the realms of progressive metal. With technical riffing, jazzy scalar choices, and some frankly quite annoying time signatures, Keene is clearly keen on bearing all that his passion project can offer in the opening salvoes of Digging the Grave and Black Star. Despite the music’s obvious quirkiness, the speed and technical proficiency on display is clearly enough to balance things out for the uninitiated. Indeed, the writing here is just about as archetypically THE FACELESS as writing gets, which is by no means a negative property. It is a great relief to hear a talented act producing new material.
The question is whether this was worth five years of waiting. Keene, despite the numerous cancelled tours and festival appearances, is an incredibly talented musician. Is this forty-five minute catalogue of sound worth the patience of his fans through half a decade of controversy, of broken promises and on occasion, scandal? The answer is simple, and disappointing: probably not, no. While In Becoming a Ghost is a very well written, and expertly produced record, it cannot overshadow the past five years. Considering the monolithic effort that was Autotheism, this seems an inadequate follow-up. The album reeks of pretension, and while pretentiousness has a place in music – is indeed necessary in parts – this is a record clearly trying to be more than a death metal album. As much as one can appreciate THE FACELESS for trying, In Becoming a Ghost fails to break the illusion that this is ultimately a very jazzy death metal album.
This is not to say the album is without merit. Sonically, this is one of the most polished and perfected albums released in recent years. The guitars are meaty, the drums are perfectly balanced, and the snare cuts through the whole thing as bow through storm swell. Keene displays his well-known playing abilities in unadulterated bouts of furious fretwork, and his musicianship clearly ties the entire effort together. His vocals carry the album through to its conclusion with a haunting quality, almost sounding as of a voice from an era long past. This jazz-influenced atmosphere is both a great credit to the album, and a thorn in its side, for THE FACELESS have yet to come to terms with their identity as a band. One can’t help but feel that a stable line-up would do much to assist this transition.
In Becoming a Ghost is a difficult album to discuss. As an album, and as a piece of music, In Becoming A Ghost has many merits. The guitarwork is incredibly adept, and drives the material throughout. However, THE FACELESS is a band centred on one singular personality, whether that personality would admit to that statement or not. As such, THE FACELESS are unfortunately branded with a singular face, that of Michael Keene. While a brilliant guitarist, Keane has a long way to go on his road to musical virtuoso and savant. In Becoming a Ghost is an album overshadowed by its past, when it was clearly meant to be a door to the future, a future that may well continue to dance just out of Michael Keene‘s reach.
In Becoming A Ghost is set for release on December 1st via Sumerian Records.
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