The hype train chugs along, never stopping, always changing direction, and continuously boarding and ejecting passengers. Such is the way of the metal press; we collectively run to cling on to the sides of the cars as they pass by, only to jump from their doors days later, hit the ground rolling, dust ourselves off and search for a new ride. Recently, as you’ve probably noticed, coal has been heaped into the firebox as metal zines blow the horn for the juggernaut’s latest destination, Fallujah’s The Flesh Prevails. And, speaking as someone who is a fan of the band, I can’t really figure out why. The Harvest Wombs was an excellent debut, and the Nomadic EP saw the group embracing atmosphere and trance electronic elements with greater fervour than before, yet the praise they receive seems to outpace their actual output. But with the collective effervescent adulation that The Flesh Prevails has inspired so far, my skepticism would seem poised for destruction.
Unfortunately, the only objects, material or not, that this album poses a threat to are the traces of the reptilian jaw joint that rest in my middle ear. Fallujah have once again written and released nuanced and unique music, but I’m still standing on the side of the tracks. The Flesh Prevails exactly meets my expectations, exceeding only my prediction for volume, which “Starlit Path” blows away almost immediately. Though it’s slow, misty bass and synth intro will reassure any fan of the clarity of Fallujah’s musical direction, it takes only about twenty seconds to realize that something’s very wrong with this record’s mastering. Throughout the introduction there is a near constant crackle and spittle as the supposedly subdued guitar chords assault the upper barrier of the track’s volume levels. This is supposed to be a tranquil and moody moment, but instead of being calming, it makes me frustrated and annoyed. Fallujah has always been about sound at full saturation, but never before has the saturation chipped away at the music like this. At almost every moment free of the huge rhythm guitar sound, there’s a noticeable popping and crunching that makes the music sound like it’s been pressed onto a record made of quartzite – “Carved From Stone” indeed.
Fortunately, when one looks past the abysmal mastering job that’s become a trademark of Unique Leader releases, it’s clear that the more focused and atmospheric Nomadic sound has been built upon brilliantly in The Flesh Prevails. The drumming and basslines are just as pummelling as the guitar leads are soaring and clear, and Alex Hofmann’s monstrous voice tears through the instrumentals with ease. As much as I hate Zack Ohren’s approach to mastering, the guy’s mixing work is excellent.
The first half of The Flesh Prevails builds steam from the first moments of “Starlit Path” through “The Night Reveals” only to drop in energy for the start of fast-paced, but free title track, which repeats the melodic motif from “The Night Reveals” through warbling guitar leads, culminating in a brief, but well-earned bout of heaviness. Going into the latter half, things get a bit more diverse; Andrew Baird’s drumming becomes less uniformly blasty, the bass plays more complex and prominent lines (especially in “Levitation”) and atmospheres become wider. “Levitation’s” airy, out-of-time solo section is one of the most memorable on the album, and “Alone With You” flaunts the band’s trance influence more than ever before, sampling a murmured conversation between lovers over heavily processed electronic percussion and featuring beautiful vocals courtesy of guest vocalist Roniit Alkayam.
“Sapphire” and “Chemical Cave” top off the album well, and the latter comes out as an impressive ending through its mix of more somber atmosphere, generally simpler riffing, and punk-influenced drum work. It’s without a doubt one of the album’s best songs, and also, because of its less distorted tones, the song which makes The Flesh Prevails‘constant clipping most obvious.
I was ready for this album to be one of this year’s best death metal releases – Fallujah has the creativity and potential to become a really big name, and their previous output seemed headed in the right direction – but always, I’m a little underwhelmed. The Flesh Prevails certainly has its moments, and it’s by no means a bad record, but ended up just being par for the course. It’s over-the-top, but also over-hyped and grossly over-loud. Some dynamics would do this album wonders, and a less atrociously brickwalled mastering job would help with that while also getting rid of the incessant audible clipping that renders half of this album unlistenable. Despite their unique sound and once again fantastic album art (probably the most unique cover death metal will see all year), Fallujah just hasn’t impressed me. I want to love this album and this band, but it seems I’ve missed the train once again, standing on the platform with fingers in my ears.