Review Summary: Fallujah miss an open goal.
At this stage, The Flesh Prevails
is more important as a lesson from history than it is as the album on which Fallujah solidified their craft. It represented the point where modern production clichés in extreme metal had reached a ceiling, as fans and critics alike responded with mutual frustration. “That’s enough”, they said of otherwise fine material ruined by the louder-is-better mindset, and the conversation appeared to have resonated with those responsible. Producer Zack Ohren – a man who by rights was simply doing what was asked of him – copped most of the flak, but responded with intelligence and composure, accepting the input with good graces despite a rather one-sided grilling. Two years later, this couldn’t be reflected more vividly on Fallujah’s latest opus, Dreamless
, with the sound itself trouncing that of its predecessor.
Zack didn’t do it alone, though. The modern but palatable aesthetics of Dreamless
are a result of him being in cohort with fellow producer Mark Lewis. The constant
sibilance that made the guitars such a chore to listen to on The Flesh Prevails
is now a distant memory. The snare also has a tangible “snap” to it, while bass drums deliver the kind of thud we should expect of a death metal setting. The platform is thus laid out for Fallujah to create what The Flesh Prevails
should have been, and the early signs are indeed promising. “The Void Alone” is up there with “Sapphire” and “The Dead Sea” as one of the best song’s they’ve ever written. The dual guitar licks that open it make for a bona fide ear worm, before giving way to spiralling tech-riffage that likewise has no business being as infectious as it is. Believe it or not, Tori Letzler’s angelic singing doesn’t clash with the tech-death soundscape as one might assume, due to Fallujah’s penchant for balancing delicacy and brutality, light and dark, hope and despair, etc.
The title-track illustrates this better than any other, and is arguably Fallujah’s most successful foray into the tech-death/ambient hybrid realm that they seem to have unofficially patented. It’s a gorgeous embrace between the synthetic and the physical, with every element present to compliment another, not one nuance is overpowered. It almost feels wrong to simply dub it as a “breather” for the ears or a “transition” bridging each half of the album, but it ultimately operates as both. Sadly, it’s after the halfway point when Dreamless
begins to stagnate, and the momentum built up in the first half slowly but surely ebbs away with each passing cut. Oh sure, the first half isn’t without its flaws; “Abandon” and “Scar Queen” blatantly recycle each other’s ideas, but at least there are thematic parallels among them to try and justify this. On the other hand, “The Prodigal Son” and “Amber Gaze” are lacking in not only ideas but also execution, falling back on mundane, seventh-string chuggery to extend their spells.
Even these creatively void numbers appear to drain the inspiration pool of what little is left, and things only get shakier from here on in. “Fidelio” and “Les Silences” masquerade as companion pieces for each other, and some might even draw associations between them and the title-track, but only on the most superficial of levels. “Les Silences” is particularly egregious – an assortment of tepid synth pads, stuttering midi-drums and all manner of sickly-sweet ear candy that fails to justify its existence, let alone its inclusion here. Mercifully, Dreamless
’ fall from grace is cushioned by its closer, “Lacuna”. The breezy clean vocals make a return – this time courtesy Katie Thompson – and the guitarists' fret boards get a sorely missed work out. Katie’s interjection also helps pave for the way for a climactic final minute, as soaring leads and blast beats burst forth and catch the listener unaware. However, as exhilarating as the track is, it’s a case of too-little-too-late.
may be leaps and bounds ahead of The Flesh Prevails
in terms of listenability, but it lags behind in almost every other respect. Upon lifting up your headphones to the sensation of your head decompressing, Fallujah’s latest album elicits no more than an extended “humph”. It isn’t the revelation we were hoping for then, it’s simply another example of what could’ve been.