Sleep is a curious thing. Physiologically, there are several arguments for why we don’t inherently need it—as scientific research on the human body indicates that, in theory, with an adequate adjustment in nutrition and lifestyle, our brains shouldn’t require sleep. But we do; those among us who have pulled all-nighters (or back-to-back all-nighters) know that. However even when we sleep, there is no promise it will be restful; our subconscious may stay active while our conscious rests, giving us dreams that distract us from a peaceful slumber. But other nights, we achieve something sacred, in a manner of speaking: pure, dreamless sleep. The sort where you wake up two, four or eight hours later feeling like a completely new person—invigorated and rejuvenated. If the contemporary heavy music scene is a restless, jumbled and incoherent night, then death metal masters Fallujah are undoubtedly the Dreamless corollary. With their latest full length release, the band continue their journey that began on Leper Colony—blending unbelievable atmosphere with intense aggression, melding energy and ethereality in a way that is sublime, to say the least. In what may be their most diverse and engaging release yet, Fallujah prove they are a band well worth their hype and praise, plunging listeners into an all-enveloping trance.
Instrumentally, Fallujah achieve a difficult feat—they make progressive death metal appealing to fans of just about any style of extreme or heavy music. Dreamless is both energetic and atmospheric; a full display of the band’s expansive talents. Percussionist Andrew Baird serves as the group’s foundation: from his bouncy and catchy build up in “Face of Death,” to the jazzy, soft-but-quick work throughout “Dreamless” and “Wind for Wings.” Baird’s bolder side is a treat to behold—as his lightning like fills and fleet feet are highlights during more frantic songs, yet still appear in the lengthier and more atmospheric endeavors to serve as a climax. “Wind for Wings” is an excellent example—as the opening to the song is almost entirely ambience flowing forth from the fingers of guitarists Scott Carstairs and Brian James, until his kit comes roaring into play. Where Baird is brash and aggressive, Carstairs and James tend to follow suit, following his eclectic drumming with dizzying riffs and copious amounts of shred. However, where Baird backs off, Carstairs and James work hand in hand with bassist Robert Morey to harmonize, lulling the listener into a complete hypnosis. The instrumental title track does this exceptionally—as do the more subtle portions of “Wind for Wings” and the very different interlude,“Les Silences.” Together, Carstairs, James and Morey work as a terrific trio, scalding the listener with scathing riffs and furious fretwork while also proving their expertise as atmospheric artists.
Where Dreamless’ musicianship alone is enough to capture the listener’s attention, the band continue their upward trend when it comes to vocals as well. Frontman Alex Hofmann can be heard stepping outside of his previously defined (and already sprawling) comfort zone several times throughout Dreamless—with his work on “Amber Gaze” and “Lacuna” serving as excellent examples. Hofmann’s lower register and upper range are both expanded compared to yesteryear’s Fallujah—adding even more intensity and emotion to the group’s portions of incredibly expressive instrumentation. “The Void Alone,” as well as “Lacuna,” sees the appearance of an eerie—yet beautiful—guest vocalist, adding even more diversity to Fallujah’s dynamic in a way Hofmann cannot. Portions like the middle segment of “Lacuna” are an example of Fallujah’s brilliance when it comes to establishing a unique vocal aspect—with clean vocals appearing out of the aether created by drifting, ethereal musicianship, only to be quelled by a final push for lacerating aggression at the song’s climax.
Realistically, you don’t even need to read this review to learn what you already likely know—Fallujah are damn good at what they do, and Dreamless is them doing it better than ever. Where Nomadic and The Flesh Prevails were solid endeavors, they lacked the same amount of accessibility that Dreamless boasts. Shorter bursts of passion and power—like “Face of Death,” “Scar Queen” and “Amber Gaze” offer a quick fix for riff-driven heaviness. Meanwhile, the band’s more lengthy and progressive endeavors still manage to keep their hooks in the listener—roaming eloquently from one end of Fallujah’s spectrum of brutality to the other without sounding forced or contrived. Few listeners may feel cheated, content wise—as the album brings two interludes and an instrumental—but even these are exceptional in their own way, and while they may not achieve the same play-count as “Scar Queen” or “Lacuna,” they will certainly not be omitted from the listener’s music player. Dreamless is fresh where many releases have been stale—setting a new standard not just for Fallujah, but for their peers as well.
For Fans Of: Between the Buried and Me, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Faceless, The Contortionist
By: Connor Welsh