Reviewed: [March 2019]
Released: [2019, Nuclear Blast Entertainment]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Bay Area extremists Fallujah are back following a particularly tumultuous period with a new fourth album and a revamped lineup. Undying Light marks the debut of new frontman Antonio Palmero, who took over for founding guitarist/longtime vocalist Alex Hofmann, who left in 2017.
Not sure what became of Monte Barnard, who had been the band’s touring vocalist in Hofmann’s absence – though he didn’t last long with Alterbeast or The Kennedy Veil, either. Rhythm guitarist Brian James is gone as well, replaced at least on tour by Danny Tunker, who does not appear on the new album. But that’s probably neither here nor there.
Along with his burly vocals, Hofmann seemed to be the instigator of the electronic/ambient flourishes that became a key component in Fallujah’s majestic sound over their last two albums, The Flesh Prevails and Dreamless, along with the wailing licks of guitarist Scott Carstairs that soared above the otherwise crushing rhythms. If there is such a thing as atmospheric death metal, Fallujah was it, especially when the occasional female vocal accompaniment was added for dramatic effect.
But much of that is noticeable in its relative absence on Undying Light. Though it retains some of its atmosphere – as Carstairs’ guitar motifs are as stirring as ever, especially on the more ethereal moments of “Dopamine” and “The Ocean Above” – the approach here feels geared more toward the visceral side of the ledger, though it’s not quite as harsh as their deathcorey debut EP Leper Colony and first full-length The Harvest Wombs.
Palmero is certainly more of a shrieker than Hofmann, giving the band something of a black metal air even if they rarely head in that direction musically. Instead, the sonic approach is more direct and less polished. And while there is some one-dimensionality to this given the similar pacing shared by many of the songs – especially over the album’s first half – its less “arty” more muscular inclinations accentuate its impact.
Things do pick up over the back end of Undying Light, almost as if the band were conserving their energy early on – save for some brief blast-beatiness on “Ultraviolet” – for a big finish. And they do deliver. “Sanctuary” kicks off in a dead sprint and roils under Andrew Baird’s turbulent drumming, as does “Eyes Of The Sun,” which builds off an almost bluesy intro and offers a jazzy aside at its conclusion to surround its brutal death metal center.
And after the droning, industrial-tinged doom of “Distant And Cold,” the album’s slowest tune, “Departure” closes things out in an all-out fury as Baird alternates between a double-bass gallop and blast-beat sprint and Palmero screams for all he’s worth. Would have liked some more where that came from on Undying Light – or at least a slightly different sequencing to jump start the album’s early going – but it’s welcome nonetheless wherever.
As this is a new start for Fallujah, a more back to basics approach – relatively speaking – makes sense. Undying Light lays a solid, if somewhat safe, foundation for Palmero to build on, as his voice and personality are given ample to make their presence known without all the clutter. And, truth be told, the progressive frills were really rather intrusive on Dreamless, so I didn’t really miss them here regardless.
1. Glass House
2. Last Light
5. The Ocean Above
8. Eyes Like The Sun
9. Distant And Cold
Antonio Palermo – vocals
Scott Carstairs – guitars, vocals
Robert Morey – bass
Andrew Baird – drums