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Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails

In the liner notes for his album Music for Airports, Brian Eno provided a classic — if contestable — definition of ambient music: “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Though it has almost certainly done so unintentionally, San Francisco band Fallujah have transplanted Eno’s dictum to the world of technical death metal.

To wit: The Flesh Prevails is ambient music for a hyperactive generation.

That claim undoubtedly requires some explanation, but first an important preliminary: This band has an irredeemably terrible name, and if the members are smart, they will ride the crest of their mostly excellent sophomore album and change their name now.

Nevertheless, in a perverse way, the name Fallujah neatly encapsulates where these musicians are currently at. Well, not the name exactly, but rather the kind of asinine thought process that creates such a name. Named after a city in Iraq’s Anbar Province that experienced some of the fiercest fighting during the American-led occupation of Iraq (including a full siege by U.S. Marines in 2004), “Fallujah” is a juvenile attempt to flirt with danger while grasping at profundity. Fittingly, then, Fallujah’s music in some ways still displays that twinned impulse.

The Flesh Prevails is a curious meeting ground of technical death metal, djent, deathcore, and astronomical ambient, but when Fallujah hit their sweet spot, the listener can barely see the seams stitching it all together. The component keeping Fallujah most defiantly earthbound are Alex Hofmann’s vocals — they’re a powerful, gut-level bellow, but his range is limited to two modes: enraged grizzly bear and slightly more enraged grizzly bear. When the band falls as one into straight-ahead brutality, the result is unfailingly rote, as on much of “Carved from Stone,” where they sound like a breakdown-drunk hardcore band stranded in a planetarium.

And yet, at points the album does manage to occupy that miraculous summit between Cynic, Meshuggah, Decapitated, and Tangerine Dream. Fallujah excel when they embrace their shred-heavy, space-ambient prog side, as in the supple, fluid title track. Here, the full-band blast-furnace roar works excellently, because it helps put the pin in a compelling climax. And the tremolo line that runs throughout the second half of album opener “Starlit Path” is damn near sublime, and reveals the closest parallel to last year’s masterful Progenie Terrestre Pura album. The reason The Flesh Prevails will attract just as many besotted cheerleaders as venomous detractors is that Fallujah have distilled dozens of influences into a synthetic, squeaky-clean, hyperkinetic, and baldly technicolor vision. The album plays like the band figured out what they wanted to do, and then did it ten times brighter, faster, cleaner, higher: everything improbable, forever.

At its best, technical death metal blends the immediate visceral impact of death metal with stunning instrumental dexterity in such a way that the listener is physically implicated in an exploration of labyrinthine violence. At its worst, the genre sounds like an army of ill-tempered algorithms misfiring, and packs all the resonance of a limp stack of rain-soaked cardboard. Fallujah occasionally list to one pole or the other, but more often than not the band produces an ambient effect.

This isn’t to denigrate the skill of the players, because the display of instrumental prowess throughout is frankly dazzling. That prowess doesn’t seem to be the point, however; instead of holding a Dream Theater-level clinic on “Your Friend, the Syncopated 32nd Note,” Fallujah channel their explosive torrent of notes into sky-gazing passages of synth-drenched bliss. They almost balance those elements equally, so that just as both are interesting, in their parity both become ignorable.

Chances are, this is not the future of death metal. But goddamn, it sounds like someone’s vision of the future.

— Dan Lawrence

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