REVIEW: Fallujah – Empyrean

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Fifteen years into their career, San Francisco outfit FALLUJAH is about to treat the world of technical death metal to a spirited feast of progressive excellence with their fifth studio album, “Empyrean,” set to be released on September 9th, 2022, via Nuclear Blast. With an overhauled lineup, the band appears to have cultivated its signature tech sound even further into progressive realms as the new members have, apparently, invigorated the general feng shui and brought some new perspectives into the songcraft.

Ahead of the album release, the band has released a music video for the stunningly ferocious new song, “Radiant Ascension,” featuring Tori Letzler as a guest vocalist. Judging by the fan reactions – what with the sentiment being exclusively something along the lines of “FUCK YES!” – the new outing will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome among the tech-death aficionados everywhere. It’s hard to disagree with the accolades hailing everything about the song to be just perfect: the punchy riffage, beautiful bridges, and inspired solos. Moreover, their newly added vocalist Kyle Schaefer, formerly of ARCHAEOLOGIST, marks a significant improvement in the vocal department. Letzler‘s siren incantations fit the song so magnificently, in fact, that some fans have pleaded she should become a full-time member of the band already. The rest of the album does not fail to impress in equal measure, so I think it’s fair to say FALLUJAH has reached a creative peak with their new offering.

The album kicks off with a somewhat GOJIRA-like angry riff monster entitled “The Bitter Taste Of Clarity.” The steamrolling riffs give way to a more atmospheric and melodic approach in the choruses, being subtly reminiscent of, say, RIVERS OF NIHIL, with whom the band toured in the U.S. earlier this year. These tech-death ruffians would have won me over at this point, had I not already been lured into fandom by their previous two albums, “Dreamless” (2016) and “Undying Light” (2019), respectively.

As if the first two songs were not impressive enough, “Embrace Oblivion” delivers the final coup de grâce; mixing brutal tech-riffage and atmospheric prog textures, paired with haunting vocal layers, the song further proves that these Bay Area proggers are riding the crest of the wave. Some say that FALLUJAH‘s 2014 effort “The Flesh Prevails” has stood as their finest hour so far. Not anymore, I reckon. The band’s primus motor, songwriter, and guitarist, Scott Carstairs, summed up the album, “It was like the tension of the last decade had been released, and we were ready to achieve goals the band had originally set out for.” It is hard to disagree.

With each new track, the selection sounds better and better. Post-rockish tremolo guitars go hand in hand with sublime elfin siren vocals and blast beats on “Into the Eventide,” and the next thing you know, these metal tricksters gear up on the deathcore aesthetic on “Eden’s Lament.” Later on, you might be caught slightly off guard when the band suddenly drops some wicked-ass, atmospheric prog grooves halfway into “Duality of Intent.” It becomes ever more obvious that “Empyrean” is going to be among the best metal efforts of 2022, hands down, due to the album’s genre-defying versatility alone.

In nothing short of a sneaky move, these metal alchemists have saved the two most haunting treats for the end of the offering. First, “Celestial Resonance” steamrolls forward like a true tech-death-cum-instrumental-prog epic, channeling the spirit of bands such as GOJIRA and OZRIC TENTACLES, even. Then, the album comes to a close with “Artifacts,” a track infusing punchy deathcore with a good pinch of atmospheric prog, as if to further pronounce a distinct sonic kinship with RIVERS OF NIHIL. Oh, yes – these tech-death ruffians have leveled up rather significantly with their new album. It is, indeed, an “all killer, no filler” endeavor that is truly breathtaking and impressive in both technical affinity and progressive sophistication.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. The Bitter Taste Of Clarity
  2. Radiant Ascension
  3. Embrace Oblivion
  4. Into the Eventide
  5. Eden’s Lament
  6. Soulbreaker
  7. Duality Of Intent
  8. Mindless Omnipotent Master
  9. Celestial Resonance
  10. Artifacts

Lineup

Scott Carstairs – guitars, songwriter

Andrew Baird – drums

Kyle Schaefer – vocals

Evan Brewer – bass

Label

Nuclear Blast

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