Flesh Over Flush: Fallujah Prevails
I’ll be the first to admit that I occasionally judge a book by its cover. Or rather, I’ll judge a band by their tank tops worn by swoopy-haired, trend-of-the-week kids with their big ears. While experience and eventual listening have shown me that my assumptions are usually pretty accurate, I’ve also discovered that I can sometimes be a huge idiot who’s late to the party for some really great bands. Because of said tank tops, hair, and ears, The Flesh Prevails is my first experience with Fallujah. I thought about checking out their debut album and subsequent EP after I heard (and was blown away by) the pre-release singles from Flesh, but I decided to wait it out and sit through a front to back listening once the album dropped. As it turns out, I’m a huge idiot who’s late to this party.
The record kicks off with “Starlit Path,” a fantastic opener that had me immediately. The track builds out of the ethereal opening in a way that few “atmospheric” bands can hope to accomplish; it doesn’t feel like a contrast when the full band kicks in, it sounds like a perfectly natural progression that leads into the unique way they’ve built their sound. “Carved in Stone” follows down the path laid before it, albeit with a heavier-handed approach. They get heavy (and stay heavy!) under all the pretty stuff, like a hulking, menacing factory beneath a night sky. Continuing ahead to the partner tracks “The Night Reveals” and “The Flesh Prevails,” we learn some serious lessons in pacing. Fallujah is nice enough to beat you in the face with some real technicality, and then they back off just in time to open up another dimension of sound. “Night” is a roller coaster ride of progospheric brutality (that term is copyrighted, it’ll cost you a dollar per use) where the atmospheric conditions are, for the most part, set up by their use of harmony, counterpoint, and guitar effects. The same tools are used to create an entirely different feel in “Flesh,” with the lovely assistance of a female singer far off in the mist. The compositional ability showcased in these two tracks is a far cry above their imitators. May those bands whose idea of “atmospheric” is generic metalcore with forced ambient keyboards forever be flushed!
So how does one follow such a well-crafted first half of an album? With “Levitation,” of course, one of the brilliant singles we were able to jam before the album dropped. The rhythm section shines in the first part of this track, with bassist Robert Morey and drummer Andrew Baird twisting through the ether at different, yet complementary, paces. When the full band kicks in, we’re led through some fascinating twists and turns while a guitar spirals (or shall we say…levitates?) overhead, adding just enough variety so that we really appreciate the full on tech-death punch we get later in the song. That last point is what sells this album so well, and this track in particular: just when one thing is about to get worn out, Fallujah takes a hard left turn and keeps your attention exactly where they want it.
In case you forgot for a stupid second that these guys are experts in the atmospheric realm, we get another pair of contrasting-yet-complimentary tracks in “Alone With You” and “Allure.” The first is in full on space mode, with another welcomed appearance of female vocals. I don’t partake myself, but this seems like a good time in the album to break out the illicit substances. The track seems to, like, float, just beyond, like, your reach, man, until it breaks into “Allure,” an instrumental effort that absolutely satisfies. In lesser hands, these two songs would have been pure filler material: tracks that add some spacey, meaningless time between the stronger songs. But Fallujah have, by the logic of that expression, really good hands, and I know I won’t be skipping them in future spins. There is serious substance of another kind to be had here.
“Sapphire,” another pre-release single, reminds us that this is a metal band. And a really good metal band, at that. Just as I was thinking that the ethereal touch could back off in favor of the band, I reached the 1:40 mark and wanted to get my mosh on. Just when I was thinking that it might come back a little too soon, a fantastic guitar solo came in around 2:40 and kept us on Earth for a little longer. Just when I was thinking that I’m ready for another ride through space, the sound effects creep back in and we’re off.
The album finishes with “Chemical Caves,” and I must admit that this closer didn’t thrill me. It is by no means a weak track, but after an entire album of monumental singles and brilliant pairings, it doesn’t quite have the heft to bring it all together. Repeated listening may prove me wrong, and it’s a relatively minor complaint to begin with.
As a new Fallujah fan, I can’t accurately fit the album into the context of their career thus far. As a longtime metal fan, I can say that this album is a breath of fresh air. The pacing is brilliant, the sounds are unique, and boundaries are completely non-existent here. Most refreshingly, it is miles above what other bands claim as “atmospheric.” We get the keyboards and synthscapes we expect, but we also get complex counterpoints built off beautifully contrasting ideas, we get excellent control of song form and layering, and we get extremely talented players who know how to balance effects, technicality, and musicianship. It absolutely works as a front-to-back album, or you can pick and choose some of the killer standalone tracks in short bursts. In addition to the closer, my other very tiny complaint would only be that the drums sound a bit thin in the otherwise great mix. I’m predicting a very high ranking on our year end lists with this one.
The Flesh Prevails is out now on Unique Leader Records. It can be purchased on iTunes, or as a physical copy here.