The Faceless are flirting with a powerful potency.
The Faceless is less a band than a Michael Keene project that has seen more than its fair share of line-up changes, album delays and controversies. In Becoming a Ghost is the band’s fourth album and first in five years, but the first with this current iteration, a tight line-up that didn’t even make it to release day with former Hate Eternal drummer Chason Westmoreland in tow. But beneath all the public tumult and the absurd Wikipedia graph necessary to track the band’s checkered personnel history, Keene, the centerpiece of the project, has delivered some of the most technically brilliant work of his career, even if the finished product leaves something to be desired.
In Becoming a Ghost is an album in name only, feeling more like padded EP with some striking heights and a handful of passable extras. It’s rapturous as a distillation of Keene’s personal sonic ethos, as his favored techie strand of death metal is captured here from a multitude of angles, with strong production and a rich mix of textures. Yes, he’s wearing many, many hats on these songs, tracking lead guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals and other track appropriate instrumental ephemera, but the core squad assembled here is all on the same page. There’s some experimentation within the sound, still wrought with blast beats, nimble arpeggios and thunderous breakdowns. But they’re filled out with symphonic touches, orchestral samples and just enough synth work to offer diversity without ruining the mood for the purists.
Longtime fans may balk at the preponderance of clean vocals in the mix dueling with Keene’s pained screaming, but Ken Sorceron, of Abigail Williams, is the most welcome addition to the line-up here, offering a necessary yin to Keene’s throaty yang. On every song, Keene’s roughhewn screeching presents a primal exploration of his basest emotional hang-ups, but the tunes greatly benefit from Sorceron’s ability to ground that primordial melange into something palatable. Keene’s a capable screamer, to be sure, but his vocal stylings function better as outbursts or punctuations to more straightforward singing. There’s a point on the closing track, “The Terminal Breath,” where Keene’s shrieking the words “I decay…” sounds suspiciously like an angry teenager shouting “idk” to a demanding parent. An entire album of that kind of unintentionally laughable misconception would be unbearable without Sorceron’s melodic counterpoint.
High points like “Digging the Grave” and “Cup of Mephistopheles” are exceptional tracks with epic scale and technicolor details enriching the heavy scope. There’s a sinister majesty to their breadth that feels as if this current iteration of the band is exactly the right one to be bringing The Faceless back to the fore. But while those pieces each move like stylistically searing climaxes, interludes like “(Instru)mental Illness” feel like someone burning an ancillary .mp3 to the tail end of a nearly full CD-R so as not to waste digital space. The album’s finest moment, oddly enough, is something of a departure from the rest of the pack, as the band curiously covers Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease.” It’s a thrilling, unpredictable reinvention of the original that fits right into the thematic core of where Keene’s head seems to be at without drawing too much attention to itself as an outlier.
The Faceless are flirting with a potency so powerful they’re able to effortlessly assimilate ‘80s new wave luminaries into their orbit without ruffling feathers or raising too many eyebrows, and that should be a feat in and of itself. If only they can lock down this line-up long enough to capitalize for a follow-up.