Review Summary: This Album, Our Funeral
I'll be honest - my assessment of Where Distant Spirits Remain (WDSR herein), Falloch's first album, was largely reactionary and immature. Time hasn't made the album resonate any deeper however, and it's still one of the most phoned-in and bland examples of post-rock tinged black metal that you're likely to hear; but it was largely inoffensive and it had occasional moments. Sadly, it seemed that many of the redeeming factors of the band were brought to the table by Andy Marshall, who left not long after the album's release to form his truly excellent Ársaidh and Saor projects. Two albums later, one in each respective project, he's already earned himself a strong foothold in folk metal's current acts, Saor's "Aura" being perhaps one of the most refreshing folk metal albums in years.
So, where has Falloch been? Aside from occasional tours and opening for bands that are infinitely better than they are, not much has been going on until now. There are two directions they could have gone in, really - they could have abandoned all of the influences Andy brought to the table and carved their own identity, or they could have clung to it desperately without any of the convictions Andy clearly had. It appears the latter happened, and "This Island, Our Funeral" is littered with half-baked flashbacks to WDSR without any of the personality. The flutes have none of the great melodies and memorable riffs are utterly absent in a mess of neutered alternative rock sensibilities stretched to unfortunate song lengths. Like, honestly, it's as if any metal band that has long song lengths and attempt a 'dreamy' sound is suddenly a post-rock band. There's very little post-rock in this at all, it's just straight up alternative rock. Which would be fine if it was any good and had the decency to not be 8 minutes a track on average.
Most of the tracks inhibit needlessly slow builds from silence, stripped far too barren to build any tension. When the rock parts do come in, however, the distortion seems so cut back to the point where much of the impact that post-rock often has it lost. Explosions in the Sky are heavier than this, for crying out loud. Most of the guitars are in the rhythm section but have very little texture or presence, let alone heaviness, to carry the music's momentum or atmosphere. It's either that or lightly-distorted guitars playing "melodies" that are annoyingly simplistic and resemble openly strumming the notes of each chord as opposed to writing anything memorable. It's all so indistinct and not structured in a memorable way, and it's no more evident than in the vocals.
Andy's vocals were a contention point for many, me included, but what it lacked in technicality it did tend to make up for in conviction. Tony Dunn's performance, however, has none of it. His open, airy and falsetto performance is utterly faceless and each line sounds just like the last one, making the lyrics and meaning of the album worthless (if it was there to begin with). In varying degrees and ways, every aspect of this album is affected by just that - it's all faceless, bland and not delivered with any heart. It isn't played or structured in any way that could be seen as human.
Truly awful moments aren't quite as abundant here than in WDSR (but they are there - the weak attempt at whistles, that god-awful break half way through "I Shall Build Mountains" containing some of the worst guitar harmonies I've heard in ages), but it honestly makes you question which is worse - having the confidence to do your thing or playing it so safe that nothing you do is of any significance. Falloch crosses the border from kind of bland and awful into offensively and irredeemably bland. With every track sounding just like the last, and not going anywhere worth going to time after time, it is just a waste of resources that hides behind the idea that they have something to say when they don't. There really is no need to go into detail of each track because each one is the same. Bland, boring and faceless. Even the whistles and piano sound like they're there simply to thicken the soundscape as opposed to being able to convey anything.
It's sad - as competent as these young aspiring musicians are there simply isn't a songwriter among them and seem more interested in playing to a trend. A forgettable romp through castrated, stretched-out and forgettable alternative rock songs and very little else.
Oh, and get your piano tuned, lads.