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It’s been a while since 2016’s ‘Dreamless‘ LP dropped – almost a full three years, in fact. Now, San Francisco’s Fallujah have returned from their silence with their fourth full length, March’s ‘Undying Light‘. There were a few teasers here and there but nothing save for deadly quiet for months until the release of this album’s first single, ‘Ultraviolet‘, earlier this January. The announcement of ‘Undying Light‘ was also the same announcement in which the American prog-metal act revealed their new vocalist, Antonio Palermo. This is also the first record since the loss of their previous vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Alex Hoffman and Brian James respectively. So the real question here is how well Fallujah have rebounded back since the loss of those two critical band members? Well, it could’ve been worse.
Fallujah are known for being pioneers in modern prog and extreme metal, combining unrelenting instrumental technicality with their trademark style of atmosphere to create this amalgamation of reserved yet brutal, proggy tech-death. Previous albums, such as 2014’s ‘The Flesh Prevails‘, showcases more of the technical aspects whereas the aforementioned ‘Dreamless‘ focused more on the ambient-driven qualities. With ‘Undying Light‘, it appears that the band has taken small steps back in both departments, understandable given they lost a good portion of the band. And while the remaining members have had to carry the torch with what’s left, they’ve not failed, but they necessarily haven’t succeeded either.
After the release of the first single, ‘Ultraviolet‘, many fans were introduced and (perhaps) simultaneously let down by Antonio. Much of the dislike came from the huge lack in range with Antonio’s vocals. Which is completely reasonable, but he’s also been made out to be an incompetent vocalist, which just ain’t the truth. He is actually a pretty capable vocalist, fitting well into the metalcore realm, often sounding akin to the harsher, mid-range fry-chords of Mike Hranica from The Devil Wears Prada or Spencer Chamberlain from Underoath. Yes, his vocals do sometimes lack dynamics and range, but he does not sound out of place on this record. I honestly think people need to give the guy a little more credit, especially since he is coming in to replace the mighty shoes of Alex Hoffman. Although, as mentioned, his limited vocal range only makes each full listen feel longer than it needs to be because the instrumentals are linear and uninteresting. I think that future records will see the band evolve and blossom into what this LP is trying to be; this is just growing pains.
However, that wouldn’t have been as bad given the rest of the band providing more interesting songs to begin with. After several listens of ‘Undying Light‘, there were no vocal or instrumental hooks or passages that stuck out to me with the exception of the drums; it all flew past me and was forgettable. It didn’t help that most of these ten tracks felt extremely similar to one another, with little to no discerning features among them with the exception of ‘Distant and Cold‘; it being the only slow and relaxed song among the bunch. This was a huge change of pace compared to the other nine tracks, containing clean vocals and was an ethereal-esque track; a pleasant, rare sight to see given the eight monotonous and repetitive tracks before it. Every other song seemed to be such a blur, as most of these songs felt so undeviating, never leading to anything particularly interesting.
Look, if someone were to access my computer, scramble the track titles, and have me listen to it again, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to identify the songs outside of ‘Distant and Cold‘.
Instrumentally, it’s immediately apparent that all members are exceptionally proficient at what they do. However, the distinction I have here is that when it comes to song-writing and creativity, it appears that a good part of it sadly left when Alex and Brian said “sayonara”. Most of what you hear here is just repetitive chugging, extremely underwhelming leads and a really lacking atmospheric level overall. That trademark-Fallujah sound is certainly present, but it’s been watered down compared with their previous efforts. Light does still remain: there are few moments in which you can hear the band build up to something truly great. But half the time, they only to return to the bland chugging. You’ll get the occasional melodic guitar solo – as heard on ‘Dopamine‘ – during a few tracks, but that is really only it in terms of somewhat interesting guitar passages.
Drummer Andrew Baird behind the kit is the sole interesting factor throughout this entire record. His skilful drumming provides the engaging technicality the rest of the band lacks here, as his playing is fully servicing whichever song or section is happening at any given time; he’s playing for the songs rather than against them. Andrew’s performance really kept me on my heels when nothing else would come close to raising such a pulse. Again, you can hear that there is potential among the remaining three members, but that potential has yet to be fully tapped into on this specific LP. It’s clear there was a real regression or a real change in the band’s overall songwriting for ‘Undying Light‘. But at the same time, thankfully, there were moments which show there’s still real chops and promise. Which all positions this new Fallujah album right in that weird middle-ground.
‘Undying Light’ is most certainly not a terrible album. The production is polished, as every vocal and instrumental aspect sounds crystal clear throughout, yet the songwriting expression and creativity are where Fallujah fall short. This is an album that displays so much potential, as this is their first step forward since the departure of the band’s two largest contributing members – vocalist Alex Hoffman and guitarist Brian James. Yet the songwriting is extremely linear, always building towards something exciting, but then only regresses back to the repetitive chugging that so often precedes said build-ups. At this point in time, with a near-unfathomable amount of other progressive metalcore records out there, ‘Undying Light’ just contributes to the over-saturated nature of the sub-genre by not providing anything new to the style nor bringing anything fresh to this band’s own smaller table. It also tries too damned hard to be atmospheric and progressive for the sheer sake of it as well. Fingers crossed that Fallujah’s next effort will be something more interesting and engaging.
01. Glass House
02. Last Light
05. The Ocean Above
08. Eyes Like the Sun
09. Distant and Cold
‘Undying Light’ is out now.