29th April 2016 – Nuclear Blast Records
01. Face of Death
03. The Void Alone
05. Scar Queen
07. The Prodigal Son
08. Amber Gaze
10. Winds For Wings
11. Les Silences
Psst. PSST. Wanna buy some fuckin’ progressive technical death metal? Well it just so happens that I have some. £20 a g. Pass me the money on the way out. Be cool.
Dreamless is the much-awaited third album from San Franciscan virtuosos Fallujah. Their sophomore album, The Flesh Prevails, was an absolute masterpiece and a tough act to follow, but Dreamless is a new game.
With each new release, Fallujah build a little and add a little, mapping a steady rise towards the sound for which they appear to be looking. Dreamless see them go a little proggier, venturing further into uncharted territory. Alex Hoffman experiments with clean vocals and whispery, spoken word sections which really solidifies the spacious aesthetic of the album. Guest vocal appearances by the incredibly talented Tori Letzler are absolutely peng too, innit (I learned a new word from my London friends and I can’t stop saying it – please help).
While it sticks to the same basic formula, it’s clear that they’ve tweaked some areas and improved others. A big part of Fallujah’s sound is the atmosphere: with ethereal ambience, cavernous spaces and entities of colossal size are conjured to mind with their Blade Runner-like electronic sequences. When the guitars thunder in with berserker riffs and ambling, chunky sections, a colossal beast enters the open space and lays bare its fury. This mixture of whispy space music and technical death metal is a niche in the extreme music landscape that is seldom explored. Sometimes a band benefits from cutting out some of the aggression and replacing it with a more tranquil idea; it definitely loses some of the punch, but it gains a new flavour. This kind of style is a technical death metal renaissance, which takes most of its influence from the fabled technical death metal bands of old, but also from more classical sources.
The likes of “Adrenaline“, “The Void Alone” and “Abandon” have tasty tech-death riffs within, providing a stark contrast to the eerie ambience. It feels like you’re floating in a pan of water while someone tries to boil you. The vintage Fallujah style tappy-slidey melodies make their usual appearances throughout the album – which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on whether you see this as just “their particular style” or as the same old shit recycled in a new album. It is impossible to argue that the melodies are not some of the most unique in modern metal – phrases of the solo work even sounds distinctly Vai-esque, mixed with tinges of late 80s driving arcade games- but other songs like “Scar Queen” have sheer power and ferocity, reminding you that Fallujah still have one foot firmly planted in the death metal border, no matter what floaty bullshit the other foot is up to.
The title track is a strange one, with more sections ambient than heavy. It feels like a respite on a journey, or a moment of clarity within the storm, conjuring imagery of tidal pools and the classical landscapes of antiquity. In fact, the whole album has a strange kind of mythological Roman/Greek aesthetic, told through a modern medium. These feel like the tales of Heracles bellowed from the mouths of the Titans, as opposed to sung from the mouths of men.
Production feels less compressed this time round, which really helps bring out the abyssal, bottomless pit kind of themes the music portrays. Each and every instrument is handled masterfully, each song composed beautifully. Songs like “Amber Gaze” tickle the itch for the heavy epic, while “Wind For Wings” provides the proggy, experimental journey track that makes use of Hoffman’s clean vocal range. Speaking of which, the clean vocals are exactly what was called for in that song – they aren’t over the top in any way. They fit perfectly with the serene atmosphere the song portrays. Like any band that tries to introduce clean vocals to an act that was previously solely extreme metal vocals, I was a little sceptical at first, as it falls on it’s face as often as not. Luckily, this is not the case in this example, and it feels like it was an inevitable next step for the band, considering their track record.
The placement of “Fidelio” has been the subject of much critical discussion. It’s an interesting little song – the Blade Runner aesthetic, the ambient electronic beats and musical sections recall bands like Carbon Based Lifeforms and Solar Fields, as well as being reminiscent of early (read: good) Devin Townsend songs – and it’s definitely not a terrible song in itself, but criticism that it disrupts the pacing are more than valid; however good it is, “Fidelio“ breaks the immersion the previous eight songs work so hard to develop. I had to think about it for a moment to decide whether I liked it. In the end, I decided that I did, but the counter-arguments are on point. Penultimate track “Les Silences” is kind of similar in some ways, but the song is so fucking good that I can’t bring myself to complain about it. It’s like some weird 90′s trance tune with mad tinges of aquatic, tropical imagery. It’s super chill, in an album filled with some truly massive songs.
This isn’t a perfect album; one could be forgiven for complaining that a lot of Fallujah sounds very samey. and it’s true that sometimes the songs tend to blend into each other, making it difficult to form connections with singular songs. I am guilty of this. In fact, while I know the names of every song on The Flesh Prevails, if someone asked me which one was my favourite on the album, I would have to say:
“Shit…uh…the one with the bit that’s all like doo-doo-deh-doo-weh-dee-deh-doo and has the big scream that’s like DO YOU WAAAAAAAAAAATCH or something”
However, Fallujah are one of those bands that you need to take in the performance as a whole to truly appreciate the mosaic of music that they craft. Individual songs have their own merits, but Dreamless only reveals its true potential when considered in its entirety. What’s more, Dreamless shows that we have reached the point where djenty riffs can be blended into other genres of music without being overpowering. Thank fucking Jebus for that – we can all relax now guys, djent is over!