The Faceless @ Mama Roux’s 4 February, 2018

Tonight  I visited my very first gig of the year. A cold night in Digbeth, I ventured to Mama Roux’s, a small venue and in typical Digbeth fashion it’s dark and has an ‘underground’ vibe to it.

The Faceless formed in 2004 and released their debut ‘Akeldama’ (2006) to solid praise from death metal enthusiasts. Speedy drumming and incredible tremolo picking garnered them a solid fanbase when it came to the technical side of their music and instantly saw them on tours with The Black Dahlia Murder and Nile. ‘Planetary Duality’ (2008) saw even more success for the band, an added progressive nature to their style, which was welcomed by fans and saw them experiment with more complex solos, time signatures, double bass drumming and even backing tracks/sampling. ‘Autotheism’ (2012) shifted to concentrate on Michael Keene’s clean vocals more and in doing so gave their music more of a deathhore sound.   ‘In Becoming A Ghost’ (2017), their most recent album, featured a stranger tone, almost mystical with the sampling involved.

They’re a very talented band on paper and have put out some ferocious death metal. Unfortunately their live reputation took a blow before the release of their last album when they didn’t show for a tour in Australia with The Black Dahlia Murder and their frequent line-up changes have also cost them tours.

Tonight they play 3 from ‘Autotheism’ (2012), 3 from ‘Planetary Duality’ (2008), 2 from their new album ‘Becoming a Ghost’ (2017) and 1 from their debut ‘Akeldama’ (2006). Upon entering it’s evident that they’re missing a touring bass player and bass will be played from a backing track.

Opening with the three ‘Autotheism’ (2012) songs, Part 1 titled ‘Create’ was great to see live; Michael Keene’s cleans giving a clear and coherant aspect to the song. The progessive nature is evident, the backing track at the start consisted of eerie piano work. Ken Bergeron’s screaming provided that cathartic and deeply violent rage in suprisingly great harmony with the cleans. Part 2 ‘Emancipate’ was faster, much faster; they have arrived. The guitar work here by Keene was jaggedly piercing and spindling, reminiscient of Cannibal Corpse and Rings of Saturn. Part 3 ‘Deconsecrate’ missed a bassline badly in my eyes but never the less it was a great show, the band know how to play fast and in time with one another, it’s effortless. The strange backing track towards the end of this song weirdly worked, it was mysterious and feels like it was pulled straight out of a 80’s zombie film. Hats off to that speedy fella at the back too, drummer Byrce works that pedal like no other.

‘Sons of Belial’ (2008), has that hugely jagged ‘djent’ sound to it and Michael Keene’s cleans here reminded me of Dream Theatre; it’s brooding and deep and definitely gives the song another dimension (as if they needed another). The solo was cracking.  The band encountered a few issues here with the equipment and of course, if the backing track goes down then it greatly effects their performance because that is essentially their bass. Ken interacted with the crowd and admittedly was quite funny, he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the problem which gave everyone a few laughs.

They triumphed through the issues, with the backing track cutting off multiple times throughout the set, with the band getting even more frustrated as it went on, most notably the rhythm guitarist Justin, who at one point stormed off backstage. ‘An Autopsy’ (2006) saw cheering from the minimal crowd. This song reminded me of classic death metal, Cannibal Corpse style. Fast, ferocious, violent, piercing and downright filthy in terms of shreddage. When,of course, the equipment allowed them to play more than half a song without cutting out.

The band tried ending on a high, with two from ‘Planetary Duality’ (2008). ‘The Ancient Covenant’ and ‘Xenochrist’ were unfortunately played out in pieces. It was such a shame considering when the band do get going they’re masterful and even without a bassist. Michael Keene went straight down to the crowd to thank everyone for being so patient when they’d finished (he looked relieved).

The band have talent in buckets but the equipment let them down tonight. Being popular on YouTube is only one piece of the puzzle, live shows are where the money is made and performances like this isn’t how you progress to the bigger venues especially overseas. You have to give them credit for making the best out of a difficult situation however, in front of a cheery Brummie crowd,  the fans who did see it appreciated their efforts.

Reviewer/Photographer – Neale Hayes

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