(Andy Synn reviews the new album by California’s Fallujah.)
Depending on who you speak to, Fallujah are either the future of the Technical/Progressive Death Metal genre(s), or simply the latest in a long line of interchangeable faces to front the modern edge of the movement.
Coming off the back of a sophomore album (The Flesh Prevails) which also divided opinions over whether it was a potential masterpiece, or simply a solid enough album which caught the crest of an unexpected wave of hype (my own opinion falls somewhere in between those two extremes), the Californian quintet certainly have a lot to prove and, as a result, there’s a lot riding on both the critical and commercial success of Dreamless, their third… and finest… full-length release.
One thing which immediately becomes apparent is just how much stronger the songwriting is on this album than on its predecessor. That’s not to downplay the general quality of The Flesh Prevails by any means, as there’s still a host of killer material on there, but as good as it is overall, it does have something of a tendency to blend together a little, meaning that once you’re done listening, it can occasionally be difficult to pick out any major peaks or specific moments that stand out from the overall experience.
Thankfully, that’s not really a problem on Dreamless as, barring a few moments in the back half of the album which might, in retrospect, have benefited from a little judicial pruning, pretty much every track on the album possesses its own distinctive identity, without disrupting the overall stylistic flow which the band have so carefully crafted.
Take the opening triptych of “Face of Death”, “Adrenaline”, and “The Void Alone”, for example. Each of these three songs is fundamentally made up of the exact same elements – nuanced, technical drums, strobing, rapid-fire riffs, dreamy synth waves, and soaring, extravagant lead guitar work – but the mix and the ratios of these elements, how they’re combined and intertwined to form a myriad of different hooks and structures, is what serves to set them apart.
Even though each track is recognisably the product of the same musical mindset, there’s simply no danger of them blending together (though, I’ll admit, the gorgeous female clean vocals of Tori Letzler that permeate “The Void Alone” are something of a cheat in this regard).
Another major improvement – though perhaps it might be more accurate to call it a natural evolution – is that whereas the band’s use of synthy atmospherics and textured ambience occasionally served to obscure the sharpness and definition of the songs on The Flesh Prevails, this time around those elements not only work in closer harmony with the band’s scintillating riff work and soaring, quasi-cosmic melodies, but also possess their own specific voice and presence.
This is not only an improvement in terms of the ever-evolving balance of the many different aspects and elements of the band’s steadily expanding, already multifaceted sound, but one which also ensures that even these instances of relative calm or meditative introspection are still layered with subtle hooks and memorable moments which make them just as vital and vibrant a piece of the overall puzzle.
I don’t want anyone to come away from here feeling as though all I’ve done is criticise The Flesh Prevails in order to make Dreamless look better by comparison. That’s certainly not my intent. If anything, having re-listened to the band’s entire back-catalogue in preparation for this review, I can categorically state that each and every one of their previous releases is still more than strong enough to stand up under close scrutiny, despite whatever minor flaws or foibles they might possess.
The simple fact is, however. that Fallujah have always, practically from their inception, been undergoing a constant (and very public) process of evolution, and Dreamless may very well signify the band finally, and fully, coming into their own.
It’s not perfect by any means – it’s ever so slightly too long, in the grand scheme of things, meaning a couple of tracks in the second half do run together a little – but it’s about as natural and invigorating a progression and expansion of the band’s sound and vision as you could hope for, taking everything that made The Flesh Prevails such a fine listen and improving upon it, sometimes incrementally, sometimes meteorically, to create what could very well be a game-changing, life-altering release for these Tech-Death titans-in-waiting.
Dreamless is out now on Nuclear Blast and can be ordered here.
I’ll have to listen to the whole thing before I make a judgment, but I’m really on the fence about this one. I’ve seen these tracks in exactly the opposite way – they feel like they’ve lost identity and separation from one another, just becoming a sea of swirling leads that sound straight out of an ’80s video game. I’ve found it really hard to pay attention to a full song from Dreamless thus far though, which is unfortunate, given that The Flesh Prevails was such a killer record.
At least Dreamless isn’t so goddamn loud though.
The Flesh Prevails is impossibly loud, I won’t even by it because it’s unlistenable. Amazing songwriting, but probably the worst professional production on a metal record ever. Like, 80% of the album audibly clips. Blehg.
I was very happy to hear that – while still loud, unnecessarily at times – Dreamless fairs much better than its predecessor.
I really enjoy this album, although I kind of hope they don’t use this to cement their sound, not sure if they could getaway with it a second time. To me, every song is very much the same idea. Pummelling high energy guitars, dipping floyd royd leads, and vocals that have inhuman energy behind them. I love the album, I really do, but I do think the songs actually lack individuality. In that regard, I tend to just absorb the album as a whole, and not pick songs to listen to. The lead lines in all the songs are really well done, but they seem compromised of generally the same handful of notes, just messed around with on a floyd more or less depending on each song.
I appreciate your position… but you are wrong and should feel bad.
Like I said, I legitimately love the album. I listen to it a lot. I have my favorite tracks and everything but I think on a song-to-song level most of the songs are sonically 80% the same.
You nailed exactly how I feel about this album. Minus the “I love the album part.” Talented musicians, great playing, great production… The writing leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion.
Still not sure where I land on this record. Undoubtedly I like it – Fallujah’s sound has such raw appeal – but I have trouble picking songs apart except for true stand outs, like “The Void Alone,” which they smartly released as their lead promo track. I also feel that it lacks the ferocity of The Flesh Prevails. It’s still heavy. It’s very heavy. But there’s no single track that riles me the way “Carved From Stone” does. When Hofmann growls, “Skin … Carved … From Stone.” it’s so immense and affronting. Dreamless never matches that heaviness.
Then again, The Flesh Prevails also feels like it has twice has many tracks as it has actual songs, so on that account Dreamless feels like a much richer album. More dense. In time it may prove the more lasting listen, but for now I’m not sure.
“Then again, The Flesh Prevails also feels like it has twice has many tracks as it has actual songs, so on that account Dreamless feels like a much richer album. More dense.”
Very much in agreement with this sentiment. Though, as you may have gathered, I felt like there’s ultimately more solid “stand-out” songs on Dreamless than on TFP (though that still has some absolute killers, as you’ve mentioned).
I think it’s almost worth approaching this not as a Death Metal album (though it’s certainly rooted in that) and more as a holistic ambient soundtrack… that just happens to be technical and heavy as hell.
I loved the Flesh Prevails and am liking Dreamless a lot too. Especially the new more electronical interludes really do a splendid job in pacing the album nicely, ´Fidelio´ being the best example of that (man that song is gorgeous).
It’s a good thing the album isn’t as loud too, because even though I wasn’t bothered by it as much as ‘the internet’, it was an exhausting listen at times.
Anyway, great (honest) review Andy. You DO seem like you’re trying to hide not digging The Flesh Prevails too much though 😉
“Fidelio” definitely works really well, and “Wind for Wings” should really be the closer, as the last two (particularly “Les Silences” aren’t all that necessary).
I wasn’t too bothered by it myself, but going BACK to it after listening to Dreamless really exacerbates the difference. You can almost feel your brain getting squashed.
As I said though, I have nothing against TFP. I still really like it. But Dreamless just improves on it in so many ways, some subtle, some rather prominent (the ambient and electronic flashes now feel much more fleshed out, for example), that it’s hard NOT to draw those comparisons.