Some other reviews will say a lot about The Faceless’ previous -core leanings and make a big deal about this album’s movement away from that style and toward a stricter technical death metal approach. The move will be framed as a vain/valiant attempt to distance themselves from the overloaded and brokedown -core bandwagon. This review will limit discussion of this to the statements just made and focus instead on the level of enjoyment this album offers and which aspects of it specifically lend to or detract from its appeal.
Planetary Duality is something akin to a concept album, though it is far from fully developed and, at thirty-five minutes, doesn’t manage the scope and scale for which its subject matter screams. The story is one of the subjugation and domination of the human race by a nefarious celestial presence. It is a tall order to do this sort of storytelling when your vehicle is a genre as dry and mechanized as tech death often is, so The Faceless aim to tell this terrible tale with the aid of cold, spacey ambience, a range of vocal styles, and plenty of cross-genre appropriation.
Brief but robust opener, “Prison Born,” depicts a macabre menagerie of human bodies in suspension tanks, heads innervated with tangled wires that render each an automaton via brain bound pulses of an omnipotent alien directive. While the opening track competently sets the stage, “Ancient Covenant” and “Coldly Calculated Design” are the most effective examples of what the band was apparently going for on this album. The nucleus of this pair is comprised of intricate, tech-y noodling enveloped by punctuated, meaty riffing that serves to keep the wankery sufficiently reined in. Lots of ethereal melody lends to the air of cold isolation, extending the alien-apocalyptic theme. Besides being a welcome counterweight to the guttural death growls utilized here, on these tracks The Faceless’ use of vocoder works very well as the voice of humans stuck in a sort of limbo between sentient being and mechanistic slave. The judicious infusion of jazzy and classical flourishes keeps things interesting without sucking the marrow from the tech-death metal skeletal structure. These songs are tight, well-balanced and carry the theme of the album very well.
The next couple of tracks follow the same general formula but do so with much less aplomb. While the thematic devices do much to hold it together, many times they seem cumbersome and out of place even with the lyrics as a guide. A notable exception is a piece of “Xenochrist” into which The Faceless splice a bit of symphonic black metal that conveys an insidious, swelling viciousness appropriate to the song’s place in the theme’s progression. Too often, though, the “avant-garde” accessories come off as mere baubles, contributing less than distracting from sections that are otherwise solid and even captivating. The best example of this is “Legion of the Serpent,” which opens with an oddly compelling Spanish guitar piece that builds to neoclassical virtuosity and eventually to more symphonic black metal malignity, where it is abruptly and clumsily interrupted by an inexplicable carnival carousel melody. For all the ambitiousness of this album’s embellishments, it very often sounds forced and contrived. This is especially true of the clean vocals, which simply come off as senseless and silly.
The two-part title track represents the highlight of Planetary Duality. Its intro brings 1:34 of compelling voice acting set astutely atop an urgent and evocative instrumental that sets up the conclusion, of sorts, to the apocalyptic story (you may recognize the intro’s voice sample from Tool’s Lateralus, Faap de Oaid, which itself comes from a real life incident on The Art Bell Radio Show). The last track proper lets previously subordinated heavier and catchy riffing take a central role, which effectively adds much needed weight to the technical exhibition when it is on display. The final song regrettably also contains what may seem like a minor quibble but turns out to be the major hindrance to the overall experience of this album. Specifically, the clean vocals during the last track are the catchiest, most memorable part of the whole damn thing. With every spin of this record – all the tech wizardry, atmospheric adornments, out-of-the-blue genre grafts – it’s that goddamn clean refrain that’s left ringing in the ether. Is this really the piece that the band intended to, in effect, define the album? Probably not and it’s a shame because it really is unnecessary.
Planetary Duality is an extremely well-played tech-death album that tells a moderately enjoyable story but, while pieces of it shine like Sirius, the sum can’t hold the weight of its parts. In a bit of irony, it is The Faceless’ laudable effort to add a little something extra to the genre’s rapidly staling stylings that ultimately makes one wonder whether tech-death isn’t the next bandwagon in line.