The Faceless - Planetary Duality - 2008

Extreme Technical "Death Metal" is a rising genre, though not all together a new thing. Bands like Death, Morbid Angel, Cynic, and then ultimately Nile slashed and burned the ground clearing the way for a new generation of Death shredders to grow and flourish.

It's no surprise how brutal and talented this generation of Extremists are, and the Faceless are no exception. They rip and shed time signatures like dead skin, with drum work so technical and insane that many question if the drummer is a human at all. Guitars and bass, yes even bass, are so impressive as to make the rest of us want to put down our instruments for good. The dual vocal attack style also works well for them without feeling too gimmicky.

Their 2006 debut, Akeldama, was a pleasant surprise for me, and it stayed on my stereo for a solid week. Ultimately even though I enjoyed the album, I found songwriting it's biggest weakness. I was still very excited to hear their followup.

The first thing that stands out about Planetary Duality is the vastly improved production. Even in moments of extreme discordance, beats a blasting, every instrument is clear, again even the bass. The vocals are high enough to take predominance without drowning out the rest of the band.

The Faceless seem less afraid to allow a riff time to develop than they did on Akeldama, which definitely adds the songs. Song structures have also become a bit more clear, that's not to say they slump on the musicianship or craziness within a song, but actual song writing seems to take precedence here. Gone are the incessant start/stops that extreme metal bands seemed to favor over the last couple of years, and again I think this is to the album's benefit. The songs seem to flow much better. And of course, musicianship is the centerpiece here - these guys are insane.

There are also more moments on this album with clean vocals, ala Opeth, which overall seems to work to varying degrees. The multiple vocal layers and styles on this album help to keep the vocal work on each song interesting. The Faceless motto seems to be "keep it fresh" and they do a good job of that.

Overall I would say that Planetary Duality is a step forward from Akeldama in terms of song writing maturity and production. And although they have definitely tuned the brutality down (Nile = 10, Akeldama = 8.5, this album is maybe a 7) This is a solid album, start to finish, and I would recommend it to any fan of technical death metal.

Key Tracks:
Prison Born - I may be alone here, but there is just something fantastic about a 2 minute song that burns away your flesh. This album opener does just that, and weighs in at 1:58
XenoChrist - If you needed to introduce someone to the Faceless, this is the song you would use. It smokes and weighs in at 5:01
Planetary Duality II: A Prophecies Fruition - I'm starting to detect a trend here... as with Akeldama (Horizons of Chaos) We have another epic two-parter. This is the longest song on the album, at 5:27, and it is a dense, dark, and brooding thing, not unlike some Lovecraftian creature creeping from the depths. The rifts are generally slower than the rest of the album, but the vocals are also very diverse.

Low Points:
Planetary Duality I: Hideous Revelation - I get it, I really do. The sample was kind of cool, but I gotta be honest, I just didn't feel it worked, or was even needed. It kind of felt like an after thought to me. Part II - Awesome. Part I - not so much.


To Thrash or to be lame...

I've spent the last several days reliving my youth by listening to so much thrash you wouldn't believe. It was sparked by a conversation with friends regarding Lars Ulrich's drumming. So in celebration of my revitalized love for thrash, I'm going to recommend some thrash albums you may not have ever heard of:

1) Flotsam & Jetsam - No Place for Disgrace (1988)

Mostly known as Jason Newsted's original band, Flotsam has continued on through 2001. No Place for Disgrace is a strong guitar driven album with your typical range of thrash lyrics for the time, politics, death, fantasy, anti PMRC messages. There are some low points on the album, but the high points more than make up for them. Being outsiders of the Bay Area (they are from Arizona) did not help them. They did get short rotation on Mtv with their song "Wading Through the Darkness" off of 1992's Cuatro, having stepped back from thrash, with stronger songwriting, and a more polished, pop sounding recording. But the day of Metal was at an end and wouldn't return until midway into the 2000s.

2) Forbidden - Twisted into Form (1990)

Fast, dark, brutal. One of the members of the Bay Area's second wave of thrash and peers with Testament. Plagued with poor management and lack of exposure from flailing label, combat, they never got the credit or popularity they deserved. With dark proto-deathmetal riffs, and talented musicians, this album is definitely worth the listen. Also Paul Bostaph's (drummer: Slayer '94-'01, Exodus '05, Testament '93 & '08) first band.

3)Anacrusis - Manic Impressions (1990)

Cutting Edge, talented, creative. They bordered on progressive with off times, cutting guitars, intelligent lyrics. Unafraid to take chances, at the end of the day Metalblade did absolutely nothing to help the band get the notice they deserved. I've read that some people think this lack of exposure is criminal. Their legacy is ultimately ironic because their last album (Screams & Whispers - 1991) could have survived the downfall of thrash if anyone had listened to it, due to it's popular sensibilities and they fact that they stepped back from thrash and became more accessible. Obvious carriers of Voivods torch.

4) Forced Entry - As Above, So Below (1991)

Exceedingly Technical, interesting, sometimes juvenile, this is a solid Thrash album from the Heyday of Thrash! However, having virtually no thrash scene in Seattle did little to help propel these guys. Some regular rotation on Headbangers ball didn't do it either. Ironically it was the brewing label sponsored punk revival/grundge wave that would ultimately put these citymates, and most of the other thrash bands, down for the count just a couple of years later. This album stands up with sharp recording, interesting time signatures, and brutality.
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