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FALLUJAH Dreamless

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Sunday, April 24, 2016 @ 8:45 AM


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FALLUJAH
Dreamless

Nuclear Blast Records




The Bay Area quintet FALLUJAH has managed to carve something of a niche for itself in the otherwise quite crowded tech-death/deathcore field by straying beyond the confines and expanding its sound to encompass a variety of sonic elements and moods. The band's third album – and first with Nuclear Blast after two with tech-metal specialists Unique Leader - takes things even further.

From Dreamless' death metal core, FALLUJAH journeys into post-metal, prog, gothic, electronic and ambient even new-agey territory, giving the album an abundance of atmosphere, dynamics and drama – indeed, perhaps too much, as the aesthetics sometimes steal what momentum the band is building and bog things down, especially over the final third. Nevertheless, Dreamless combines brutality and bombast with grace and elegance like few others before it, presenting a cinematic wall of sound that at times is downright breathtaking.

The electronic hum and ethereal shimmer of guitar that leads into the opening track “Face Of Death” offers an inkling of what's to come, even as it yields to the crashing riffs and surging tempo that drives the song forward – not to mention frontman Alex Hofmann's flame-throwing roar, which sounds somewhere between NAPALM DEATH's Barney Greenway and HATE ETERNAL’s Erik Rutan. Even at its heaviest, “Face Of Death” is tempered by a soaring lick from either Scott Carstairs or Brian James that rides atop the tumult as the other hammers away, a common tactic that is employed – if not repeated - throughout the album.

No matter how punishing things get here, there's usually something to provide contrast and balance the band’s attack. If it’s not delicate, nimble guitar runs, it’s a liberal wash of synths, the hushed pause and grand almost orchestral sweep on the otherwise ferocious “Adrenaline” or guest Tori Letzler’s serene clean vocals on the magnificent “The Void Alone” and the monumental “Abandon”. Hofmann even makes a brief go at that during “Wind For Wings”, softly shouting a verse during something of a duet with Letzler.

“Scar Queen”, with the limber rhythms of bassist Rob Morey and drummer Andrew Baird bobbing and weaving with Carstairs and James‘ quaking riffs, and the back-to-back pummel of “The Prodigal Son” and “Amber Gaze” provide the most consistently brutal moments here. The atmospherics are used more sparingly, indeed you barely notice them through the blast beat-powered churn of “Amber Gaze”, and arguably more effectively, adding color without diminishing the raw power.

When FALLUJAH goes too far in the other direction things can be frustratingly tedious. The title track, “Fidelio” and “Les Silences” are largely instrumental tracks that are draped in keyboards, electronic percussion and whisper-like monologues - and largely free of anything demonstrably metallic. As brief segues, that might all be well and good – indeed the wistful “Fidelio” is an efficiently terse 2:44. But “Dreamless” and the French-language “Les Silences” drift along for six minutes each and fill way more space than they should – though “Dreamless” does boast a pretty bombastic lead break.

The album finishes with a bang in the thunderous “Lacuna”, where everyone’s technical chops get a chance to shine, but you’ve got to wait through “Les Silences” - which is just one song removed from “Fidelio” - to get there. So there is a definite loss of steam as things wind down – especially after the one-two punch of “Prodigal/Amber Gaze”.

But up to that point, Dreamless is pretty stunning work. Its grand scale, dramatic contrasts and brute force captures qualities of THE FACELESS, CULT OF LUNA and DEFTONES – without really sounding like any of them in particular. And its ambition and daring cannot be denied, even if FALLUJAH does push the envelope for a bit too long here.

3.0 Out Of 5.0

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