Fallujah - Dreamless - Artwork

Artist: Fallujah

Album Title: Dreamless

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 29 April 2016

‘Dreamless’ represents my first foray into the world of Fallujah but it most definitely won’t now be my last. Hailing from San Francisco, this heavy metal behemoth has produced a startling third album which has to be heard to be believed. The lazy amongst us might try to place the US quintet into the box marked ‘technical death metal’, but it would serve to tell only half of the story; maybe even less than that.

You see, what you have here is a final product that doesn’t fit easily or neatly into one simple genre classification. At its heart, the music of Fallujah is technical, it is complex and it is as brutal and uncompromising as death metal should be. But it is also ambient, cinematic, melodic, and atmospheric. Hell, whilst we’re throwing the adjectives around, let’s add in electronic, groovy, futuristic and progressive. But, be warned, by ‘progressive’, I’m referring primarily to the song structures and the relative originality of the music, rather than suggesting you’ll hear extended mellotron solos or some such.

The first thing that hit me when I listened to ‘Dreamless’ from the off, was the quality of the musicianship on display. Seriously, these five guys can play and you’re left in no doubt that this is the case within moments of pressing play. Throughout the hour-long record, we’re treated to razor-sharp and incisive guitar riffs from Scott Carstairs and Brian James, blistering drumming courtesy of Andrew Baird, the bass of Rob Morley that actually adds something interesting to the overall sound and Alex Hofmann’s vocals that are savage and commanding. In terms of the drumming, I had to actually double check to see whether the band employed a human or a machine, such is the precision and break-neck speed of the sticks and skins work.

fallujah band

In fact, ‘Dreamless’ is so damn slick and precise in all areas, from the musicianship itself, to the crystal clear Zack Ohren (Sharkbite Studios) production and gorgeous artwork. And for many, this über professionalism could have threatened to take just a little of the warmth and heart away from the music. However, what ultimately saves Fallujah from falling into this trap is their sophisticated song writing which incorporates an increase of groove, melody and frequent shifts in the dynamics, not to mention the inspired use of synths and programmed sounds as well. The latter, despite all of the extreme and brutal tumult, imbues the compositions with a spacey, floating and dreamlike quality which, together with the post-rock, ambient and atmospheric sections, creates some wonderful depth and an impressive exploration of sonic textures. Nothing about this album feels clunky, messy or out-of-place; everything fits, everything makes perfect sense and it flows with a surprising grace and elegance.

The album opens up with ‘Face Of Death’ that begins in superbly dramatic fashion, full of ominous and moody intent. However, it soon erupts into a measured and groovy but heavy-as-hell track which pummels with its mid-tempo intensity.

‘Adrenaline’ then takes things up a notch having smoothly segued from the opener via the almost primeval sounds of guitar feedback. This is all-out warp speed attack music, where nothing is left at the door. The lead guitar breaks are sensational, adding a touch of melody to counteract the drums that hit ridiculous speeds and the bruising riffs. Towards the end, the savagery falls away to be replaced by an ambience and calm that’s beguiling.

‘The Void Alone’ is the track that was released a few weeks ago and got my juices flowing. And in fact, it is more or less a four-and-a-half-minute distillation of what ‘Dreamless’ is all about. A quirky yet quickly infectious melody returns at various points within the track to be built upon until it reaches a heady crescendo at the song’s end. Joined by stop-start riffs, a bruising and tight rhythm section and even some almost ethereal female vocals, it remains one of the album’s stand-out tracks.

But then, there are very few moments that dip below excellent. That said, featuring 12 tracks and nearly an hour of music, ‘Dreamless’ isn’t perhaps the quick-as-a-flash, short sharp shock of brutality that it might otherwise have been. As such, it may come across as a little daunting to sections of the metal community. Personally, I have very few complaints in this direction. And whilst I can see an argument for a slight honing of the album, it’s difficult to see where any trimming could have been done given the consistent quality of the material.

‘Star Queen’ contains some of the most ridiculously fast drumming I have ever heard whilst the title track is other-worldly magnificent. It begins quietly, building as it develops. The synths and programmed sounds really come to the fore as it ebbs and flows with a wondrous fluidity from quietly introspective and hugely atmospheric to intensely euphoric via a touch of the soulful and melodic. The combination of machine gun precision from the rhythm section, chunky riffs, delicate female vocals and a return of the opening melody means that the track ends in a manner that gives me the chills.

Elsewhere, ‘The Prodigal Son’ blends more uncompromising death metal with chilled out ambience and an almost cheeky playfulness from the guitars. ‘Fidelio’ may be an interlude piece but is nothing short of beautiful, dominated by a piano, electronic sounds and spoken-word vocals. ‘Les Silences’ ups the ante of the electronic sounds and textures and, given my normal reticence towards this style of music, it wins me over thanks to the overall atmosphere of the track and the feeling of hope it conveys.

And then, to end it all, there’s ‘Lacuna’. It’s undeniably a technical masterclass but is also a piece of music that melts faces with its intensity and sheer power. And yet, in keeping with the entirety of the album, it is laced with a sense of the epic, an infectious groove and subtle catchiness.

I have no doubt that ‘Dreamless’ is an excellently crafted album that will live long in the memory. It will appeal to those looking for a brutal slice of extreme metal, but will also find favour with fans of the more proggy and, dare I say it, the more melodic ends of the spectrum. In fact, it could be the bridge between all three, and rightly so. They don’t travel in an entirely new direction but Fallujah have certainly discovered a new path slightly at a tangent to the vast hordes. The results are superb but will others now dare to follow?

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znjLSW8kfBM&w=560&h=315]

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