Published Nov 24, 2015Billed as "The Return Of The Faceless," the California technical death metal band's new tour is their effort to break back onto the scene they helped popularize since the first Sumerian Records release, with a new line-up and energy after a period of relative inactivity. For tour guests After the Burial, it's a chance to move forward after the tragic passing of founding guitarist Justin Lowe.
But first the openers had the chance to prove themselves. Toothgrinder did just that, with the audience moving from blank stares to headbanging during their unremitting set, even though the constant changes in rhythm made it difficult. Musically, they sound like a slightly subdued Dillinger Escape Plan, tempered by the progressive melodies of Between the Buried and Me.
Technical deathcore band Rings of Saturn seemingly dropped the former part of the equation, eschewing the showboat segments in a rough mix that emphasized the low-end over everything else — even the vocals. The funny part came when the singer declared, "I can't hear you," because neither could the crowd hear his muffled vocals (or the majority of what was going on during the set). The guitars looked like two-by-fours with strings and, unfortunately, sounded that way.
A focus on the low-end was much more beneficial to Minnesota's After the Burial, whose groovy djent/metalcore depends on it. Despite performing with only one guitarist, Trent Hafdahl — and who could blame them, being far too soon to even consider replacing their fallen brother — the leads cut to the forefront, with rhythms being left to backing tracks where necessary. Rareform's "Cursing Akhenaten" and "Berzerker" showed the band in rare form.
Vocalist Anthony Notarmaso revealed that the bassist performing on the night wasn't Lee Foral, who was home with his newborn baby, but you wouldn't have known it; the replacement filled in admirably, and the band played off each other well, with Notarmaso taking to a riser to make the most of the small space. The most touching moment of the set came when he proclaimed, "Justin is always going to be on stage with us," which was met with the most thunderous applause of the night. Though his presence will be missed, it was nice to see the band doing his memory proud, performing well in his absence.
The Faceless's leader Michael Keene came out decked in a Rush shirt, proving that the Californian knew his prog roots. The band opened with the three-part "Autotheist Movement" set: "Create," "Emancipate" and "Deconsecrate," which likely would have been a lot more exciting if not for the lack of vocalist Derek "Demon Carcass" Rydquist, whose return was apparently limited to the studio. In his place was Aegaeon vocalist Julian Kersey, a fine vocalist in his own right, though his Corpsegrinder-esque barks took away from the melodies present on the Autotheism tracks.
His stage antics, too, were culled from his main gig and similarly out of place, with his swath of hair hanging and bobbing like a mop in the middle of the stage and invisible oranges o'plenty being crushed over the heads of the audience. Older songs such as "An Autopsy" and "Coldly Calculated Design" were more conducive to his style, which was welcome as, for the most part, everyone else was on point.
Keene's guitar playing was spot-on and his singing was much the same: melodic though complacent, rarely pushing his own abilities as a vocalist. (Perhaps it was displeasure with Kersey's performance, but Keene looked oddly irritated throughout the set.) The lack of a bassist was glaring when the opening bass sweep of "The Ancient Covenant" was tracked, but this song and encore "Xenochrist" stood nicely regardless, Kersey's performance blending in well.
The returning of the Faceless was fine and well, though it could have been that much better with the addition of Demon Carcass, whose live omission left a damper on the evening that not even the best vocalist could make up for. Between all of the bands' missing members (Lowe and the After the Burial given the only pass, Toothgrinder having the only complete line-up) and missing sounds, the show played out as a could-have, should-have-been rather than a true triumph.