Fallujah, a relatively young 5 piece band hailing from the Bay Area of San Francisco, California, has already made waves in the metal scene for pioneering the subgenre of progressive / atmospheric death metal tunes. Released 2014, “The Flesh Prevails” was a well received, focused effort building more ambience and atmosphere than the previous focus on heavy technicality. “Dreamless”, their third studio album and first on NUCLEAR BLAST Records, was tracked by Zack Ohren (All Shall Perish, Suffocation, ANIMOSITY) at Sharkbite Studios, with Mark Lewis (The Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel) on mixing and mastering duty, is due out April 29 and has already surpassed all expectation I had, to put it lightly. The production on this album is MASSIVE.
With lyrics written from vocalist Alex Hoffman’s perspective, he stated the general theme relates to cinematography and how certain films have toyed with his emotions. Much like previous instrumental tracks, a piano and synth driven electronic instrumental titled “Fidelio” features a sound clip from a movie, the 1999 erotic drama “Eyes Wide Shut”. Each song on the album offers a demonstration of emotion mixed with the aggression to be expected from a metal group.
The album opens with the track “Face of Death”, a groovy, slower paced album buildup track boasting solid leads and rhythms so crystal clear with just the right amount of punch and the signature Fallujah melody behind the heaviness. The bass stands out as well, a feat thankfully becoming more and more common in today’s technical metal music. Next up is a faster paced track, “Adrenaline”. The album showcases many elements reminiscent of older,Harvest Wombs –era Fallujah, laden with energetic drum fills, thrash beats, and blasts overtop the atmosphere. After the previous album, it’s good to see them jump right into it with riffs upon riffs without overdoing it for the sake of shredding. The focus on consistent riffing is much more present here, alongside the tremolo melodies, similar to the change from Harvest Wombs to the NOMADIC EP. Alex delivers yet another insane vocal performance, with his distorted vocals sounding as heavy and aggressive as ever, and a short clean vocal piece in “Wind for Wings” leaving me surprised by how well I enjoy his singing.
“The Void Alone”, was the first single released by the band for this album. I was originally very impressed with this song, not only by the tightness of the riffing, but the punch of the drums without sounding too overproduced or triggered. Lending her vocals in the album is female vocalist Tori Letzler, also appearing in songs “Lacuna” and “Dreamless”, whom I couldn’t praise higher. In the midst of grooving and feeling the ethereal solos behind catchy and tight guitar patterns, in comes Tori’s clean harmonized bits that only build the emotion of the song, rather than taking focus off of other elements. The sudden tone change from calm to heavy is somewhat comparable to Opeth’s, moving from death metal riffing and distorted vocals to clean, calm, beautiful guitar and synthesizer parts encouraging the atmosphere and emotion of the songs forward.
Next up is my personal favorite track, “Abandon”. Opening with dark, dissonant chords, it leads into melodic heaviness over whispered vocals and synth key backing. The darker side of the album starts to surface here, leading into more of Katie Thomson’s clean (and now with context, slightly haunting) vocal work. The keys remain throughout most of the album, highlighting the prominent dark atmosphere. Shortly after the first single was released, a guitar playthough for the second single was released entitled “Scar Queen”. Opening with a very ominous, delayed clean guitar harmony, it leads into proggy distorted mayhem.
The multiple electronic instrumentals purvey pure emotion. The progressive and slight jazz emphasis is a bit heavier on this record, as well as the groove which makes way for more dynamic cymbal and tom work in the rhythm. In a band generally defined by the guitar work, it’s nice to see the drums stand out and shine bright, as well as the clearly audible bass. I could easily compare some of the nonmetal electronic pieces to the feeling of warm sunlight. Simultaneously dark yet beautiful, they really grab and tug on the heart strings. EDM style music capable of doing so for me has been few and far between, so this speaks volumes of the composition. It really balances itself out though, as this record features some of the most technical pieces they’ve written in combination with some of the most progressive. It bounces back and forth but it never loses focus to where it feels indecisive, and the direction of the album flows between dark and beautiful deliberately.
Fallujah have released their most accessible album to date with “Dreamless”. The band has encapsulated heavy emotion, beauty, darkness, and aggression into 55 highly enjoyable minutes. With formidable guitar work, Alex’s powerful distorted and Tori’s crystal clear vocals, and progressive rhythms odd enough to make note of but not too far off the prog deep end, this album is tenfold the evolution I expected from this band. Be sure to pick up a copy of “Dreamless” this April 29th on Nuclear Blast records.