I love getting debut records to review, partially because debuts are usually where bands try to bring something new to the table, and partially because it means I have a lot less contextualization to do before I write about the album. But then there are sometimes cases in which I’m actually familiar with a band prior to their release, and in this instance I have The Zenith Passage covered. Their first EP, Cosmic Dissonance, was my introduction to the band way back in the salad days of 2013, and I can recall the exact train of thought that went through the ancestral 2013 Kronos‘ brain. I won’t belabor you the details; what’s important is that the train was long, uniform, and had engines at the front and back ends. Both of those engines, as well as all of the train cars, had two words on them: The Faceless.
If you’re opposed to seeing the above bolded letters repeated, I’d recommend you skip this review and go outside, because the second “Holographic Principle II: Convergence” got going, I was set to namedrop Keene & Co about a dozen times. The ghostly clean guitars, lightning fast seven-note chugs, dissonant but reigned-in chord hits; sure Planetary Duality had a big effect on the tech-death scene, but nobody has ever aped it this perfectly. “Simulated Reality” busts out the vocorders and for a second I’m tempted to make a Cynic reference, but wait! The Faceless do that all the goddamn time.
All this aping might seem like a bad idea -and to be fair, it certainly won’t win the group a non-snarky review – but as far as influences go, The Faceless are a good one to pick1. “The Dissension Consensus” opens with trademark stop-and-go riffing and a handful of semi-melodic leads and sound like a trade-off between Akeldama and Autotheism, introducing keys that will return to play out the album in “Luminary Singularity.” It’s a pretty killer tech-death song, with a great balance of drama and display, and of course captures the feel of The Faceless across pretty much all three of their albums. The follow-up, “Dreamsphere” is a quiet, jazzy interlude led by a morose synth, which showcases drummer Luis Martinez. It might be the most original piece on the album, but it’s way less fun than the tracks surrounding it.
Production-wise, the attention to detail on this album is remarkable; the guitar tone, the gating – everything except for the drumset, which comes off a bit more natural – sounds exactly like Planetary Duality. I can see it now; a tiny group of diehard fans attending The Faceless concerts with binoculars, single-mindedly picking out out every knob on every amp and making meticulous notes on whether it was turned 78 or 76 degrees away from zero. The band’s commitment to their craft boggles the jejunum. Or it would, were it not the case that guitarist Justin McKinney became the second member of The Faceless last year, and I’d bet my bottom dollar Michael Keene taught him everything Michael Keene knows about production.
I think it’s entirely fair to call The Zenith Passage a copycat act, but such a simple description misses the point. The band so meticulously follows in the footsteps of The Faceless – that Solipsist sounds more like The Faceless than The Faceless. In fact, I feel secure predicting that fans of The Faceless will find Solipsist much more familiar than the real band’s upcoming In Becoming a Ghost LP, which is probably going to be just as divisive as the last one. In terms of The Faceless albums, this really does beat out Autotheism, and if you jumped ship because Keene started going Åkerfeldt, boy do I have a band for you. If everything goes as planned – and given how perfectly produced this album is, I imagine it will – The Zenith Passage will put out a critically acclaimed follow-up in two years, then start hemorrhaging members and prematurely succumb to Kronos‘ Law of Increasing Hippietude.