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…