Fallujah are a truly unique band. Best described as “technical death metal,” they assemble traditional elements in unexpected ways on their new release Dreamless, and it’s a heady album to dig into. The standard pounding double kick drums are front and center – and drummer Andrew Baird deserves credit for not just hammering away indiscriminately: he varies up his kick pattern in very fun ways on every song. The riffs, both the mathematically inclined runs and more straight-forward rock and roll licks, are tight and heavy, and the roaring vocals of Alex Hoffman break no new ground, but are all utilized well. Where Fallujah throw a wrench in the works is their dual guitar work: while one guitar is usually focused on pumping out brutal riffs, the other is usually noodling off in space, tuned to sound almost like a synthesizer from a cheesy 80s sci-fi movie. It’s a jarring effect, but it’s also as far as I know a completely unique arrangement; the closest comparison I have is some of the lighter passages by fellow tech-death band, Between The Buried And Me, but overlaid with the heavy parts at the same time.[columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Album Title: Dreamless
Release Date: 29 April 2016
Playing Time: 00:55:38
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Lead track “Face Of Death” helps set the tone for the rest of the album. Fallujah don’t necessarily adopt the standard “verse-chorus-verse” format, but a good many of the songs on Dreamless have the same elements: a long, dreamy intro, a heavy instrumental riff, a “first act” of heavy vocals, a second act that is usually softer and restrained, and a third act that is easier a new heavy riff or a copy of the first act. The first three pop up, but the song almost feels like half of a whole, with the immediately aggressive “Adrenaline” feeling like a continuation, or the ‘real’ song after an extended intro. Regardless, Baird loses his goddamn mind on this song. I am not sure I’ve ever heard so many different kick patterns inserted into the same tune, and he flows between them with ease. Next is lead single “The Void Alone,” which has a really gorgeous intro and amazing bass-driven riff (pay attention for the string bend; a bass whammy dive sounds awesome) before diving into the super intense first act of vocals. Where the song jumps out is the second act, where ghostly female clean vocals from guest Tori Letzler offer a jarring contrast to the still monstrous drums. The third act is short, but makes up for brevity with ferocity, featuring Alex Hoffman’s most throat-shredding screams of the album.
“Abandon” dials back the synth-y elements in favor of the most straightforward, chuggy riff of the album, but with surprisingly gentle ‘verses’ (aside from the vocals and drums, anyway) featuring almost jangly, chiming guitar work. “Scar Queen” features some impressive guitar heroics, including a lead run that’s less 80s sci-fi and more Scale The Summit, and an excellent dueling guitar solo trading “swancore” style math licks back and forth between axemen Scott Carstairs and Brian James. Title track “Dreamless” is the lightest song here, meandering along on a drifting, shimmery hook and featuring more guest vocals from Tori Letzler. In fact, Hoffman doesn’t even come in at all. While it feels a little bit like a 6-minute interlude, it is very engaging and a nice respite from the craziness surrounding it. Speaking of, “The Prodigal Son” offers the angriest sounding performance Hoffman has delivered; his screams never sound forced, but this guttural barks feel heartfelt instead of just appropriate.
“Amber Gaze” borrows a little bit from Deftones, with a buzzy but still “soft” guitar intro building intensity before a galloping thrash riff overwhelms it. While the intro is cool, the rest of the song feels rather bland, and “Fidelio” is an interlude in truth. “Wind For Wings” is probably the album highlight, with a long, pensive intro that is very reminiscent of Tool. Once the intro ends the song stumbles a little, but the outro is equally impressive. Instrumental track “Les Silences,” which is surprisingly upbeat, adopts that 80s sci-fi vibe entirely, eschewing heaviness for futuristic synthscapes and layer upon layer. Even the drums sound computerized and retro. And finale “Lacuna” is a slow build, but once it reaches its peak it’s a beast of a song, and keeps one of the melody lines from the intro humming throughout the rest of the song, anchoring the chaos.
Dreamless is not an easy album to listen to. In fact, the more casual the listening experience, the less this album will probably appeal to you. But if you can focus in completely and truly appreciate the level of precision in every note, every pause, every beat of every song, then this album’s appeal skyrockets. So approach with care, but if you can set that time aside, this is an extremely intriguing album.