Bay Area death metal act Fallujah have become a controversial act of sorts; the group’s emphasis on glossy atmosphere and flashy prog as well as their open love of shoegaze and dreampop have caused the group to become maligned by some genre purists.  The fact of the matter is that Fallujah do not fit neatly into specific genre boxes, and this gets trickier with their latest record Dreamless, a cinematic experience that takes them to new heights while further alienating them from those expecting an unadulterated genre entry.

Dreamless is a logical follow-up to their previous outing The Flesh Prevails, blending the opposing forces of thick technically-minded death metal and atmospheric music. The tricks we’ve come to expect from Fallujah make a return with thoughtful elaboration; expressive guitar leads, cavernous reverb, and feminine vocal hooks (this time featuring session vocals from Hans Zimmer collaborator Tori Letzler) are utilized to bolster an ethereal aesthetic that has been accomplished by few metal records since Cynic‘s Traced In Air in 2008.

Further, Dreamless is practically virtuosic in its technical prowess and songcraft. The duo of Scott Carstairs and Brian James weave some incredible guitar work that has come to define the Fallujah sound as one that gives equal weight to melody and technique. For instance, leading single “The Void Alone” is anchored by its stylish guitar hook and “Scar Queen” sports one of the most exhilarating guitar solos the genre has seen in years. Bassist Robert Morey also takes his shots from beneath the wall of sound to help carry tracks such as “Abandon” and “Wind for Wings” and establishing himself as one of metal’s most underrated bassists.

Frontman Alex Hofman continues to utilize his voice wisely and to maximum effect. The vocalist’s affected barks are among some of the best vocal work in this style of death metal growling, and not to discredit his incredible work, but dreamless is made greater by its diverse array of vocal styles and guests.  Between Hofman, Letzler’s angelic voice, and a guest spot from Raunchy‘s Mike Semesky on “Wind for Wings,” Dreamless has no shortage of hooks.

From a production standpoint, Dreamless is lush with reverb and the captures the illusion of space where The Flesh Prevails felt overly compressed and suffocated. The songs on display here have room to breathe and move with dynamic intact. Finding a balance without sacrificing clarity or punch is no doubt difficult in producing atmospheric death metal, but producer Zack Ohren and the band seem to have finally made it work in presentation. This is an absolute necessity and a fortunate advancement as Fallujah have dedicated more disc space for floaty dream pop in a number of tracks, particularly the hypnotic piano-lead vignette “Fidelio” and the wholly synthetic “Les Silences.” The album’s title track may also turn heads as a mostly-instrumental centerpiece of ethereal melodies and meandering ambient prog.

In every facet, Fallujah have made great strides in improving upon — and truly discovering — themselves. Albums like Dreamless are the best-case scenario for the post-Planetary Duality modern death metal scene as it is its own unique experience that pushes the genre forward. It’s sleek without being mechanical; in fact, Dreamless is in a league of its own as a passionate death metal record. Breathtaking and exhilarating, Dreamless is Fallujah’s finest album to date and like it or not, it is a potential new benchmark for forward-thinking extreme metal.

Fallujah – Dreamless gets…




6 Responses

  1. AlphaBetaFoxface

    While bands such as Alustrium prove that progressive/technical death metal can be done flawlessly in a conservative state, Fallujah are the band who will push the genre forward. Hot damn am I excited to get my copy of this. Fantastic review!

    • michalR

      ima long-time enthusiast of tech-death but cannot find anything interesting in Alustrium, its typical, not-that-melodic standard quasi-tech death metal with terrible singer. somebody compare it to The faceless – its not from the same league i think.

      Speaking about Fallujah – seems pretty good for the first listen.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        I did say “conservative”. It does what tech-death did at the beginning, only on a larger scale. As a long time enthusiasts you would probably know that tech-death did not start with a melodic focus; bands like Fallujah have added that as a stylistic choice. You gotta remember that tech-death started with bands like Decapitated, not bands like In Flames. Alustrium are very standard in what they do, but they do what they do extremely well. Fallujah have simply taken the tech-death formula and added their own spin. I think Alustrium are considerably better than The Faceless at this point in time; their songs have a flow, riffs build into each other rather than change on the fly, the band creates cohesion through song dynamic rather than through spacey synths, the band makes very solid tech-death first and foremost, then worries about adding stylistic choices after. Their vocalist is also rather good at utilising his range effectively, while The Faceless seems to be a mess of discordinant jumps between vocal styles.

        But that’s just my 2c. I repeat, “conservative” tech-death. What makes it so good is the fact that no one makes good box-standard death metal these days. Everything is either atonal, atmospheric Gorguts worship, or non-stop shreddery without rhyme or reason, and a few spacey synths slapped on for extra measure

      • michalR

        dont think so, bands like Atheist, early Cynic, Martyr started before Decapitated, playing quite melodic stuff. Martyr was rather a technical-thrash/death, but also was full of melodies and interesting patterns.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        Valid point. Though melody is in no way devoid from Alustrium’s latest, and I would beg to say that “A Tunnel to Eden” is more melodic than basically anything Atheist or Martyr ever wrote; the second half of the album is very melodic. Sure, Atheist and Martyr might make their riffs more pronounced due to isolation, but they use a heck of a lot of chromatic riffery. What bands would you compare Alustrium to, and why are they standard quasi-tech death? It just feels to me like they have stripped dm down to it’s core, then jacked everything up without compromising key values, while everyone else today seems to be aping each other. I can’t think of too many bands that are of a similar, stripped-back sound outside of Black Crown Initiate and Persefone.

      • michalR

        to be honest its hard to say and compare bands nowadays, as many of them play similar stuff. speaking of Alustrium, i dont think its bad relaese, but the riffage is quite standard, cannot find anything complex in that music, its rather progressive than technical. thinking about modern tech death i see bands like Psycroptic, Spawn of Possession, Archspire, which play very complex riffs, have many tempo changes, many different patterns in one track, something similar what bands like Watchtower or Spiral Architect played decades ago, but with more ‘deathy’ sound. tech metal is something i have to focus on while listening, trying to find the unique melody lines between extreme, and very skilled riffage and sometimes very fast tempos. not too many bands out there play like this. The Faceless is also one of them, but they gone more Opetish recently, even when their riffs are still very complex. another example from recent findings is The Zenith Passage, which is definitely a mix between Necrophagist and The Faceless, but its still a complex stuff. Alustrium is not bad at all, but its in the different league than bands i mentioned. they have some moments but as a whole they are not too complex. i praise a French band Gorod for their complex tech-death, which is always very challenging to listen and understand the concept.

        I also would rather push Fallujah to progressive than tech-death releases, due to atmosphere, and riffs that are not too complex imho. but the latest release is far better than the previous one.

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