Early autumn was a happy time for American progressive death metal band Fallujah; they have released their fifth studio album Empyrean via Nuclear Blast Records. And this is also the debut for two musicians – singer Kyle Schaefer and bassist Evan Brewer, who joined the band quite recently. Their contribution wasn’t very significant to the general sound and signature style of Fallujah; the band continues to investigate their initiated earlier researches within extreme progressive/post metal domain.
This Californian foursome is now fifteen years old and has survived many line-up changes and even drastic stylistic alteration, choosing the glorious path of progressive death and shifting away from more straightforward area of deathcore. But their explorations went further, it seems like this band feels too constrained even within such tolerant and multifaceted genre as prog death. And of course, the abstract and emotional side is no less important for these sophisticated San Franciscans than the music itself. It’s a rare phenomenon, when the band presents their creations in such a down-to-earth and expansive manner at the same time. This lightness of two polar concepts is common in post-metal, when through heavy layers of materialism you still can see the path to enlightened revelation. It’s not that Fallujah plays pure post-metal (it’s almost impossible, post-metal has too many connections to be considered as something pure and independent), but in a sense they very much belong to this abstract and broad music genre.
Of course, the sound focuses on guitar work – progressive, refined and introspective, weaving together all the chaotic and technical patterns with the ultimate goal to make every song holistic and complete. The guitars are leading us through all visible and invisible destinations infecting every song with something unique and even experimental. And there are moments when it’s absolutely safe to mention the sense of total improvisation, but considering how meticulous the arrangements are, we can exclude the possibility of something improvisational (this feeling is really strong during the instrumental track “Celestial Resonance”). And the progressive parts are especially tricky on this record; those not only perform the function of structural technicality and show an enviable skillfulness; ubiquitous progressive elements also act as aesthetic guides (the term “art metal” would fit there perfectly). The point is, progressive parts aren’t here to complicate things for the sheer sake of complication (e.g. showoff progressivity), but to profoundly emphasize many faces of every composition.
Due to the high level of technicality, the catchiness is a little bit rusty, and sometimes the chaotic perception lures from dark corners, contaminating the songs with some kind of messiness. The disharmonic parts are also responsible for this sort of semi-chaos, but still, Fallujah have managed to restrain the dissonant parts and to harness them on the principle of mathcore rules (“Radiant Ascension”). The moods are melancholic, dark and pensive, but also with a strong optimistic impact, especially emphasized through the choruses, that often hint at their deathcore past, but now in a softer manner, closer to metalcore (“Radiant Ascension” and “Soulbreaker”). And once again we can hear a massive post-rock influence here; thanks to this, we can feel something nostalgically beautiful and aloof, like you finally have accepted your solitude as a vital instrument to your personal growth. The ghost of mystic atmosphere is also omnipresent on Empyrean, bamboozling with the fake pretension of something esoteric.
The guest female singers Tori Letzler and Katie Thompson with their musing and meditative voices softened the overall mood and added some sort of impressionistic sensuality (especially during “Into the Eventide” and “Artifacts”). The closing track “Artifacts” is the longest song here, offering a formidable variety of different stylistic moves with the mesmerizing ambient outro. The melodic lines are also a bit stiffened by distorted guitar effects, constant progressivity and screechy noisiness, and therefore this album isn’t so easy to digest. But Fallujah are ready to sacrifice this “catchiness option” for the sake of harmonization of their abstract side.
Empyrean is a place in the heaven that contains the fire, and it is also the celestial dwelling of the God. It seems like the cover art illustrates divine incarnation of this abstract entity, and it’s not only beautiful and exalted, it is also frightening and reverent. The same can be applied to the fifth studio album of Fallujah. The lyrics resonate well with this Empyrean concept – an urge to liberate yourself and to be reborn free and pure in your spiritual renovation. There’s no global wording for good taste, taste is taste, and it’s different for every one of us. But Fallujah undoubtedly play this kind of music which in many aspects will take a test for good taste. In art and fashion world there are such insanely pervasive words as “chic” and “elite”; metal world isn’t fond of this kind of luxury terms, but sorry guys, Empyrean is chic and elitist and classy and posh and whateverfuckingelse. Oh gee, Fallujah would definitely pass for haute couture.
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