Tech Death Titans: The Faceless – Planetary Duality
You were promised more Tech Death Titans, and now we deliver on that promise.
Before we get this started, I’d like you to set aside everything that’s been swirling around The Faceless the last year or so. Forget the revolving door lineup, forget about the drug abuse, and just focus on the music. This coming Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of Planetary Duality, one of the most influential albums on the modern tech death scene. Let’s see if we can break down what exactly led to this album’s enduring legacy. To that end, you’re getting a brief history lesson of dubious accuracy from someone who didn’t listen to any metal at the time:
From a high-level standpoint, the tech death landscape of 2008 wasn’t too different from what we have today, though each “school” of tech death felt a little more rigidly defined (and Fallujah had yet to bring about the advent of post-tech, for lack of a better term). Necrophagist were still riding the Epitaph wave at the forefront of the noodly tech death field, prog giants Cynic were primed to release Traced In Air, Decapitated were moving away from their wilder roots towards their modern groove-oriented sound, and Spawn of Possession and Decrepit Birth exemplified the more archetypal “death metal” side of things. It was wild and diverse, with many of what we consider familiar traits for the genre’s yet to be defined.
The Faceless had previously explored a rough-cut unification of these ideas on 2006’s Akeldama, but that was built on a foundation primarily consisting of a solution of deathcore and melodeath; Planetary Duality was the album that truly changed the game. This took Necrophagist’s clean shredding and dragged it through a landscape of shifting time signatures replete with sinister keys, punchy grooves, and nasty death metal riffing. Heavy use of vocoder is pulled straight from Cynic’s playbook, but here, they’re twisted and alien, a far cry from the soothing atmospheric effect the former produced. Seminal classic “XenoChrist” is the embodiment of of this new sound, exemplifying everything The Faceless was about at this point in time.
Of course, the music itself is only part of the package. I strongly suspect that Planetary Duality had a hand in Pär Olofsson’s explosion in popularity, its operating-table-clean style and vivid purples reflected by Michael Keene’s slick engineering job. That’s not to say that this was the first clean-sounding death metal album ever, but compare it to just about any clean modern tech death album’s production; it’s almost certain to bear a lot of similarity. The final element of the experience is the album’s concept. Loosely based on conspiracy nutjob David Icke’s Children of the Matrix, the album details the mankind’s manipulation at the hands of an extradimensional alien race that ultimately plane shift their planet into our reality. It’s total lunacy that there are people who believe this sort of thing, but it makes for excellent death metal subject matter. The album’s title track, besides carrying some of the most potent prog grooves ever penned, makes brilliant use of the infamous Area 51 caller on Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast” program to tie into the story:
However, what was revolutionary in 2008 has become mundane, perhaps even tired, in 2018. This album’s influence can’t be overstated; it’s a sound that bands have been chasing as frantically as Epitaph’s, if not more so, but in the pursuit of that sound, I believe other bands have surpassed it. The Zenith Passage is essentially The Faceless 2.0 (guitarist Justin McKinney even played for The Faceless for three years), Soreption built their entire sound on that vicious syncopation, and Inanimate Existence wholly eclipsed Duality with A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement. With a couple sub-par releases in Autotheism and In Becoming a Ghost and Keene being… himself, it’s hard to call The Faceless a necessary band in this current era of tech death.
Still, Planetary Duality was a landmark album, and it still makes for a good listen. Its short length and clean production make it a great entry point for newcomers to the genre, and echoes of its ideas can be heard reverberating yet today throughout the tech death scene. This album makes me want Keene to clean up and keep a stable lineup; while I doubt they could ever create another Planetary Duality, it feels like there’s still potential for something good.