With the addition of new vocalist Antonio Palermo (of Underling) fame, nervousness around this album abounds, and rightfully so.
We are here to allay those fears, however. ‘Undying Light’, Fallujah’s fourth full-length, demonstrates a maturity, adaptation and sincerity that is often forgone in the clean-cut, super-produced, self-conscious progressive metal scene. This is an album of a band doing what it means to be progressive and consciously adapting to change.
Opener Glass House demonstrates this almost immediately, with the droning and reverberating guitar tones bringing more of a Skyharbor or Devin Townsend feel, albeit with extra production grit. Antonio’s oscillations between pained high shrieks and hardcore-styled rasps fit surprisingly well amongst the bands’ trademark stop/start, arpeggiated and expansive but pummeling riffing style.
The unmistakable, reverb-drenched wails and solos of guitarist Scott Carstairs remain in the mix, but it’s the rhythm section battery of drummer Andrew Baird and bassist Robert Morey that crack ever-shifting whips over the familiar and forlorn melodies.
Comparatively, Last Light begins with that cosy, familiar Fallujah format of jarring chords and warbling leads, but the addition of higher-register screeching and backup shouted vocals keep things interesting amongst a washing machine mix of tempo changes. Militaristic snare rolls and bludgeoning double kicks keep that introspection and meandering rooted in solid footing.
Interestingly, our to-be-expected ambient interlude here, complete with thundering bass fills, quickly puts the navel-gazing leads on the backseat in favour of a more direct and riff-driven approach. On face value, it all feels simplistic, but there’s actually a hell of a lot going on in the background. These deceptive walls of riff are a prominent feature in this album, substituting prior albums’ tendencies to fly off into the lands of leads and bends with chords at the forefront.
Ultraviolet reinforces this new focus with punchy and evil chords foregrounded alongside a tribal rhythmic intro, the faintness of those leads adding just the right amount of subtle melancholy. Throaty barks and shrieks start atop a blastbeat-laden section, and the requisite quiet parts are also underpinned by some very thick, deliberately focused riffs. This sense of stability and solidarity of the riff, not the meandering leads or technical runs, adds a very Deftones feel to the album. We see this in Dopamine, jarring chords, pulsing basslines and measured roars offering a purposefully subdued verse. Plodding along at a consistent tempo and darker in tone, there’s little of the usual fanciful variation and soaring dynamics here, save for some buried and layered vocals and lead work. This obvious decision to uphold the riff in favour of fancy footwork is a boon, stripping away that chin-stroking prog expectation and delivering a concise, sincere product.
Given how much this album sonically pays homage to Devin Townsend’s wall-of-riff classic ‘Ocean Machine’, the next delivery of tsunami-sized, staggered chords and leads is aptly titled ‘The Ocean Above’. With swaggering riffs, the gait of the rhythm section provides an uneasy sway underneath screams and reverberating leads. Subtle shifts in the chord progressions punch a tone or two in which you can feel on an emotional level. The juxtaposition of barely-audible cleans and throaty roars adds to this off-key visceral dynamic quite well, too. Showing itself out the door without too much fuss, it ends a tad anticlimactically but not in a bad way at all.
Returning to that cavernous but urgent sense of tight riffs under expansive guitar and huge screeches, Hollow progresses at a brisker pace, washing in and out of quiet introspection and walls of busy riffs and leads like the ebb and flow of the coastal shore. Using hugely pronounced chords much more than their ambient but prominent lead warbling, the track has a sense of thickness until it drops out to a trademark atmospheric break. Ah, there’s that Fallujian loftiness right now.
It seems we spoke far too soon, and our navel-gazing is interrupted by the uptempo technical intro of Sanctuary. Falling backwards into that stargazing ambient wash a bit sooner than liked, the track thankfully slices in some fast fills and runs, injecting a shot of adrenaline before becoming too meditative.
Eyes Like The Sun hearkens back a bit further to ‘The Flesh Prevails’ with those super drawling, morose elongated leads of yore, distorted bass and drums plodding slowly in the intro. This is only briefly before breaking out into a hyper-speed section of blinding blastbeats and focused, tight riffs. Jackhammer double-kicks propel slower and more sustained riffs, blending into a mess of blasts, soaring leads and technical riffs in a big soup. A shuffling and groovy breakdown fights off what would otherwise be a sense of “here we go again” anticipation of long ambient pauses, wrapping things up rather succinctly.
Just as well, seeing as we are now nine tracks in. Given the average twenty-first-century humans’ attentional capacity is on par with a goldfish, it’s a slog to have reached the much more pensive Distant and Cold. Eschewing all self-consciousness about being Death Metal Enough For You, the track is all harrowing strained cleans and backup shouts, buried under a very simple progression and faded out with an almost 80s-style synth drone. A nice, easy interlude with no pretentious spoken-word passages, operatic vocals or other pseudo-poetic flair. Simple and effective.
Of course, such a late interlude serves only to open it up for a big closer, and those who have stayed the course are treated to a delight with the crushing closer Departure. Plodding along on its’ own time to begin with, then speeding furiously through an almost blackened verse, the band kick up the dust and ensure the album rounds out with a furious note. The higher-register shrieks and cries mirror the urgent tempo, breathing force into the albums’ oft-subdued textures. A sledgehammer breakdown with a simple lead rains down like artillery fire, a simple recurring lead flying above the punishing closing riff and fading out in the same fashion as the opening intro.
Those seeking ‘The Flesh Prevails’ Part III or even ‘Dreamless Part’ II, you’d best get on your bike. ‘Undying Light’ is unashamedly its’ own beast. In a day and age where sterilized production and aimless wandering is a staple of every prog kids’ food pyramid (or so it seems), it’ll be interesting to see how the masses react to this albums’ confidently concise, bare and raw approach.
You can preorder ‘Undying Light’ right HERE.