Major lineup changes, particularly from the replacement of a member fundamental to the band’s sound like a founding vocalist, can cause a clear divide in not only a band’s fanbase, but the narrative of the band’s discography into distinct eras. For instance, Between the Buried and Me swapped all but two members between The Silent Circus and Alaska, dividing the band into two uneven halves. In other cases, bands can have personnel shifts so frequent that each album feels like its own era; see: The Faceless.
Bay Area progressive death metal act Fallujah have just entered their own new era of music following the departure of vocalist and keyboard player Alex Hoffman in 2017. In his place is longtime friend and Underling
(which also features Fallujah bassist Rob Morey) vocalist Antonio Palermo, who has a distinctly higher register. Gone are the brutal death growls; Palermo’s clear and emotive screams — countered with pitched bellows and a decidedly Chino Moreno-esque whisper — present the band with new sonic opportunities that they take full advantage of.
As the immediacy of the vocal change wears through a top-loaded first half with energetic opener “Glass House” through psychedelic first single “Ultraviolet” it becomes clear that it was more than just vocals that Hoffman brought to the table. The band’s propensity towards dream pop and electronic influences have completely vanished, stripping the band’s sound back to core metallic instrumentation. The emphasis on evocative atmosphere and melody remain; guitarist Scott Carstairs weaves soulful leads and solos throughout Undying Light, and much of the record is lush with reverb. Tracks like “Sanctuary” and “Eyes Like The Sun” will please longtime listeners due to their emphasis on guitar riffs and expressive soloing.
There is however a beautiful simplicity to the songs on Undying Light, and at times, Fallujah pull influence from acts like Misery Signals or Circa Survive, but met with a metallic intensity and darkness that sounds like neither act. “Distant and Cold” evokes late-era Deftones with distant power chords, romantic atmosphere, and airy vocals. The break in “Hollow” is full of life and character. The use of pitched screams in “Last Light” provide more opportunities to deliver hooks on an already extremely listenable record. Such is the power of good songwriting.
The band have also never sounded better from a sonic and production standpoint; Zach Ohren is a talented metal producer, but he had difficulty balancing Fallujah’s unique blend of death metal and atmospheric influences leading up to Dreamless. Now under the helm of Mark Lewis (Whitechapel, Cannibal Corpse), the band appears to have finally found their sound on recording. The layers of guitars are clear and full and, as previously mentioned, expressive. The drums have punch and sit in the mix tastefully. Palermo’s screams come with clarity, and you often don’t need to rely on lyric sheets to decipher the songs. Never before has bass guitar been so present on a Fallujah record, and it is entirely welcomed.
Undying Light, for all of its hooks, good vibes, and major strides in developing Fallujah’s sound, will unfortunately have a difficult time breaking out from the shadow of Dreamless. Fans are a fickle bunch, and it doesn’t take a stroll through the YouTube comments of their grand unveiling “Ultraviolet” (below) to see how such a stark change can alter the band’s narrative and perception. It’s unfortunate because Undying Light truly has a lot to offer, and is a promising new entry that marks a bright new era for Fallujah.
Undying Light will be available March 15th, 2019 through Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-orders are available at this location.