Let’s get this out of the way; Fallujah and Angry Metal Guy have a complicated relationship1. AMG‘s reaction to The Harvest Wombs signaled the beginning of a beautiful friendship; a friendship which, upon the release of The Flesh Prevails in 2014, some asshat proceeded to destroy. While there were nuances to his argument, the primary complaints were that the promotional copy of the album clipped like an overzealous grounds crew, and that the album was at times, if you really paid attention, just a tiny bit really fucking loud.
I am that asshat, and I regret nothing. In fact I’d do it again, because thanks to my vindictive caterwauling, producer Zack Ohren2 (Omnihility, Immolation, Brain Drill, Arkaik… basically every band signed to Unique Leader) stopped by for an excellent discussion about his approach to the album’s loudness and kindly provided the AMG staff with a less-compressed version of The Flesh Prevails, which we proceeded to re-review, and which ended up on my top ten list.
But it’s with open arms and unmuffled ears that I welcome Dreamless. It doesn’t matter whether it’s because of label change, artistic direction, or your nagging3; Dreamless is dialed back to the industry standard DR 64, and sounds like it, too – and that’s the last I’ll say about it. This album is a far cry from The Flesh Prevails, though the band’s trajectory isn’t surprising; the trance influence that The Harvest Wombs suggested and The Flesh Prevails actualized has become more prevalent, and Fallujah‘s newest songs are shorter, airier, and brighter along with it. But it’s the balance of brutality and beauty struck by the band that makes their sound so interesting – and the fear is that the scales are tipping.
“Face of Death” and “Adrenaline” pulse with energy and establish the album’s progressive aspirations while retaining death metal intent, but it’s not until “The Void Alone” that Dreamless becomes truly exciting. Wafting in on a typically airy intro, the song moves from cradling to crushing with stunning speed, featuring some of the album’s most memorable leads, along with saturnine guest vocals from Tori Letzler. Further excellence comes in the form of “Scar Queen,” which might be the album’s most well-balanced offering for fans of the group’s previous work. It’s relatively short and to the point, and for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on reminds me of 2000s prog-melodeath. But after “Scar Queen,” the title track takes a turn towards trance, and it’s a decision that the band seems to struggle with for the rest of the album.
While Fallujah‘s frequent forays into pure ambiance might scratch the progressive itch for many fans, I’m left finding “Dreamless” and the overt trance acts of “Fidelio” and “Les Silences” somewhat bloated and tedious. Though filled with these undoubtedly emotional compositions, the b-side of Dreamless is almost more interlude than action, and it makes for a less than compelling listening experience. Fallujah handle transitions between these tracks and their neighboring metal compositions extremely well, but this can sometimes work against them, as it’s unclear why some songs show off both sides of the band and other songs that bleed into each other do just one thing at a time. The Flesh Prevails balanced the band’s duality in its guitar-driven approach to atmosphere, and the album flowed very well not just between tracks but from beginning to end. Dreamless at times feels unfocused and under pressure to include as much material as possible.
While you’re not going to hear any Christian Muenzner solos on Dreamless, guitarists Scott Carstairs and Brian James put out impressive but not necessarily pyrotechnic performances. This album isn’t quite as technical an outing as The Flesh Prevails, and though there’s material for guitar nerds to sink their teeth into, like the Psycroptic-length opening phrases of “The Prodigal Son,” it’s more restrained on all accounts. Alex Hoffman (I assume) even belts out some gruff clean vocals on “Wind For Wings,” and though he sounds a bit strained, I’m sure on Fallujah‘s fourth album these will be much more common and comfortable. I can’t say I’m a big fan of Tori Letzler’s vocal contribution to Dreamless either; whether it’s her voice alone or the production, the result is too airy and fragile, especially when Hoffman’s growls are as potent as ever.
It would be foolish to ask a band as unabashedly progressive as Fallujah to stand still and just repeat The Flesh Prevails at a lower volume, but nonetheless, Dreamless can’t quite compare to its predecessor. Its songs simply aren’t as strong, and the band’s writing seems to have delaminated; atmospheric songs have peeled away from the band’s death metal roots and serve only to take up space. Much like how Fleshgod Apocalypse actually became less interesting after integrating orchestral instruments into their sound, Fallujah‘s increased use of electronics rather than guitars to create atmosphere feels gimmicky at times – a step back from the cohesion and wonder that The Flesh Prevails offered. While the band obviously intend to slip the surly bonds of death metal, in doing so they’re inevitably going to slip the even surlier bonds of death metal fans.
- Regular readers may want to scroll through the exposition in the following two paragraphs. ↩
- Due to the decree of AMG hereby referred to as Zack “friend of the blog” Ohren ↩
- I’ve heard from at least one commenter that talked to the band in person about the loudness of The Flesh Prevails, and dozens who voiced their disapproval here, on the Metal-Fi forums, and at various and sundry unaffiliated websites and comment fields. ↩
- Boooooooo! The industry makes records unnecessarily loud etc. ↩