In Becoming A Ghost
1st December 2017 – Sumerian Records
01. In Becoming A Ghost
02. Digging The Grave
03. Black Star
04. Cup of Mephistopheles
05. The Spiraling Void
06. Shake The Disease
07. I Am
08. Ghost Reprise
09. (Instru)mental Illness
10. The Terminal Breath
The Faceless are unique among their peers in that even with all of the drama and lineup changes that have plagued the project – seemingly since its inception – they have earned an abundance of good will by releasing albums that are hailed as instant classics. In fact, the only time that the band have drawn significant heat from its fans in recent memory is when they took the high road in dropping a band from their tour because of sexual assault accusations. From their highly technical early work Akeldama to their biggest success Planetary Duality and even to the more experimental Autotheism, each album The Faceless have released so far has been rightfully languished with praise, which has carried the band no matter what frustrations came along the way.
In light of that, In Becoming A Ghost is a confounding release in so many ways. Despite a long five-year wait since their excellent 2012 album Autotheism - itself a long four-year wait – this fourth album from The Faceless still manages to feel like a rushed assemblage of tracks rather than a cohesive work. While it sounds odd to suggest that even more time may have been needed for In Becoming A Ghost to coalesce into something as special as the records that preceded it, that is the only conclusion one could arrive at after dissecting the album.
While a bit of distance may do some good for In Becoming A Ghost, when viewing the album in the context of how it has been released much of its power is diminished because so little of it is fresh for those who have been following The Faceless over the years. The band has never written albums more than 30 or 40 minutes long, and so something more grand than what we are left with was not reasonable to expect. At the same time, of the ten tracks on here we have two spoken word tracks, one brief instrumental, a cover song, and three pre-release singles. The pre-release singles are the strongest original material on the album, but in the case of “The Spiraling Void” we have heard it for over two years already, while “Black Star” was released half a year ago. This leaves a paltry three original songs, and while they are perfectly good songs, none reach the heights of what we have already heard long before In Becoming A Ghost was released.
There are, of course, some aspects of In Becoming A Ghost that are commendable. Prior album Autotheism had a problem of being a pastiche of recent works by Opeth, Cynic, and Devin Townsend - almost to a comical degree. It often felt bereft of originality because one could see the stitching of where parts were borrowed like Frankenstein’s monster from other relevant metal artists. On In Becoming A Ghost we have The Faceless tapping back into their own creative potential and it generally works very well. They have often added flourishes of sounds associated with science fiction and circus music as well as industrial elements and on this album those are each utilized to great effect throughout the 43 minute runtime.
The album is a bit front-loaded in terms of its highest impact content. It opens with the title track that is merely a minute of mastermind Michael Keene speaking over a lightly plinking piano melody before giving way to the outstanding “Digging The Grave“, which shows The Faceless at both their most muscular and most gentle. It is a thrilling song with blastbeats and dissonant guitars throughout over the potent screams of new vocalist Ken Sorceron but also Michael Keene’s smooth and soulful singing voice that has rightfully become a key component of the band’s sound. The height of the track is accented with flourishes of horns and flutes that are tasteful and add yet another layer to the strength of the song. “Black Star” comes direclty after and shows off Keene’s singing and his bass prowess with a lovely tone that is evocative of Robin Zielhorst’s work with Exivious. The first half closes with the heavily industrial and not especially memorable “Cup of Mephistopheles” and the still-great-two-years-later “The Spiraling Void.”
Few people in the intended audience of In Becoming A Ghost are likely to be huge devotees of Depeche Mode, so the choice to cover a 30 year old song is an odd one to say the least. At the same time, “Shaking The Disease” hews closely to the original while making it their own and in doing so crafted the biggest highlight of the album. Keene sounds so similar to David Gahan on the chorus it is remarkable, but everything else has been altered so heavily that it represents a major shift (literally since it’s in major key) for their sound and would be more than welcomed for The Faceless to try their own craft in this same vein. The screaming and blastbeats atop a cascading major scale is totally arresting and so much could be done with this that it begs to not be a one-off experiment.
After this though we have another decent but unremarkable song entitled “I Am” that precedes basically a repeat of the opening monologue and then an insubstantial instrumental that goes nowhere before landing at the final track “The Terminal Breath.” So while the first half of In Becoming A Ghost contains some great songs that have mostly been out for a substantial amount of time, the second half flies by before you know what has happened to it.
All of this is to say that The Faceless, in spite of everything, remain an incredibly talented band who can deliver classic music under the proper conditions. It seems as though In Becoming A Ghost was taken out of the oven prematurely; it has plenty of polish with brilliantly clear production, but really needed to be more substantive than what has been delivered. What we have is an album of half great songs that will surely be a part of the setlist for years to come, a few filler tracks that hardly count as anything at all, and a couple of songs that are good but not particularly enthralling or worth returning to frequently.
Though In Becoming A Ghost was just delivered in full, one cannot help but to wonder how The Faceless will grow from here, particularly if they are able to retain their bold creativity and cohesiveness. Here is to hoping their next offering is as inspired as In Becoming A Ghost without needing to show most of its best cards months, if not years, before release.