Album Review: FALLUJAH Undying Light
Fallujah has stripped itself of its fiery edge and produced a record more akin to an overwrought jam session than a raging death metal tour de force. Of course, stylistic changes are not inherently negative. The problem isn’t that Undying Light, the band’s latest record, is a different album than its predecessors, it’s that Fallujah’s basic songwriting skills have taken several steps backward and the band has almost completely failed to capitalize on their biggest strengths.
Surprisingly, Undying Light’s most obvious difference from prior Fallujah records is one of the less impactful ones. New vocalist Antonio Palermo higher-pitched, raspy screams have much more in common with At the Gates’ Tomas Lindberg than prior Fallujah frontman Alex Hofmann’s deep death growls.
The primary issue with Palermo’s vocals is that they’re just kind of there. His screams are largely unchanging throughout the record’s 45-minute runtime and the lack of intensity and variation makes the vocal sections on most songs indistinguishable from one another. A handful of lines are sung, though Palermo’s cleans are often layered or otherwise obscured, but the effect is minimal.
Still, Palermo is not the primary culprit here. His performance ranges from average to slightly worse than that, but Palermo’s faults pale in comparison to Undying Light’s anemic instrumentation and overall tone.
The furious aggression of Fallujah’s prior work is almost entirely absent on Undying Light, which often sounds like a practice session that was unintentionally recorded. Variety is also sorely lacking: Far too many songs open with a brisk metal-focused half before slowing things down in the midsection or final third, where Palermo is often entirely absent. As such, much of Undying Light sounds like a slight variation of one theme, and it’s not an interesting one.
All the while, Undying Light’s thin production makes each song feel strikingly weightless. If you enjoyed the engrossing, grandiose soundscapes on The Flesh Prevails, you’re going to be quite disappointed.
As far as standouts go, Undying Light’s first few songs bare a vague resemblance to the noisy fury that defined Fallujah’s older work and are unsurprisingly the record’s high points. “Glass House” and “Last Light,” are lively pieces and benefit immensely from the generous number of stylistic variations. They serve as a decent one-two punch to kick the record off but are hardly groundbreaking.
Unfortunately, there are also several songs that fall considerably below Undying Light’s rote standard. “Dopamine’s” simplistic, plodding guitaring begins grating the ears only seconds in and rarely lets up. The song mostly moves at a meandering pace, but even when it speeds up, it largely sounds the same.
Interlude “Distant and Cold,” unarguably the record’s worst track, exacerbates those issues. While Undying Light’s general lack of intensity makes the song feel unnecessary and like a way to artificially extend the record’s length, the song is also pretty terrible in its own right. The comatose riffs and drumming make “Dopamine” sound like high-octane tech death, an issue made worse by the mind-numbing sameness of the song’s pace and tone. Palermo’s droning whispers—further marred by studio effects—offer no reprieve.
It’s not like Fallujah is inexperienced at this sort of thing. The band has interspersed well-timed moments of calm in prior records, and those sections received as much care and attention as the band’s heavier segments. It’s stunning to see a band that has done this so well in the past so clearly miss the mark today.
Undying Light isn’t a mixed bag or a slight misstep. It is a genuinely bad record that even diehard fans will have difficulty sitting through. Of course, this is hardly irredeemable. Fallujah has talented musicians and the band has produced great music before. But if Undying Light is a sign of things to come, it’s a fairly dire one.