When music from Los Angeles metal group The Faceless' newest album, Autotheism, began to leak out into the blogosphere last summer, fans were divided, and so were critics. “A botched experiment of sorts,” opined SputnikMusic.com; “razor sharp,” countered ThePRP.com.
The group's previous work, 2008's Planetary Duality, had gained near-universal accolades for its impressive display of death-metal brutality, anchored by the dizzying guitar work of Eagle Rock native and band co-founder Michael Keene. Their fan base grew through their venerated live show, as well as high-profile tours with acts like Lamb of God and Meshuggah.
But Autotheism, their third album, ushered in some changes. While a few of its tracks have the blastbeat drumming, death-metal riffage and death barks (courtesy of new lead vocalist Geoffrey Ficco) for which the group is known, the rest of Autotheism has a progressive-rock flavor, loaded with bursting, melodic flourishes.
Keene, meanwhile, has increased his own vocal presence, with a clean delivery that at times recalls Mike Patton during his Faith No More days.
Considering that heavy-metal fans are notoriously resistant to change — after all, it was a major controversy in 1996 when the members of Metallica simply got haircuts — it's perhaps not surprising that folks got worked up.
“I knew that was going to happen,” Keene explains, over lunch at the Brite Spot in Echo Park. In general, he seems like a pretty relaxed guy, not easily ruffled. “There are people that wanted another Planetary Duality. I think that's strange. Why would you want the same record again? That record's there. Why don't you just listen to that one if that's all you want?”
If the change in the group's sound seemed sudden to some, Keene traces his ambition for the work back to the 2003 formation of The Faceless.
“There are a lot of things fulfilled on Autotheism that I wanted to explore earlier, but I maybe wasn't comfortable taking those risks then,” he says, noting that he was 17 at the time. “My ambitions at that point were slightly more inside the box, but as the band developed and we achieved success, I felt more free to experiment and try more off-center things. My idea for what the band was going to be is fulfilling itself now.”
Still, despite the aspects of Autotheism that suggest otherwise, “At its core, The Faceless will always be a death-metal band,” Keene insists. “I would say we are more on the proggy side, but there will always be brutality in there somewhere.”
He's already begun writing the group's next album, making one wonder: Where is their work going to go from here?
“It's pretty eclectic. Some of the stuff is really technical metal, but some of it is really jazz-influenced stuff. I don't know how to fit it all in and make it The Faceless yet, but I'm going to.”
In the meantime, he's flexing different musical muscles — quite a few — through another project The Faceless will release later this year: an album of covers and remixes. Tracks will include versions of David Bowie's “As the World Falls Down,” from Labyrinth, and Nine Inch Nails' “March of the Pigs.” Beyond that, industrial artists will be remixing some of Keene's band's tracks.
Will it inspire come confusion, and maybe even some hostility? Quite possibly. Will Keene be able to gracefully shrug it off? Most definitely.