The city of Fallujah, located in modern day Iraq, is an ancient city with a long history of both religion and violence. Fallujah dates as far back as the Babylonians and prior to the 11th century was a home to a major Jewish academy. Today it’s considered the “city of mosques” as there are reportedly over 200 of them serving the city’s roughly 300,000 inhabitants. (That would be the equivalent of 200 Catholic churches in Toledo, OH if anyone needs a Westernized version to compare it to.) Fallujah has not always been a place of spiritual respite though. Wars have been fought over and inside the city for almost too long to count, leading up to Fallujah being the epicenter for civilian casualties during the first Gulf War. One could assume that it’s this historical juxtaposition between the spiritual and the violent that led four dudes from San Francisco to name their band after this city in the Iraqi desert. Fallujah, the band, are certainly on their way to mastering the sonic equivalent of this sometimes bizarre, and always powerful, ying and yang.
Progressive death metal is not a new thing. Writing brutal death metal that takes a turn into jazz or prog rock territory was something far too many bands who didn’t have the chops for it have forayed into. Hell, progressive death metal is even one of the culprits that spawned an entire genre of various bands ending in “core” that pollute such festivals as Warped Tour and Mayhem Fest. But very few bands in the world today have nailed down a brand of atmospheric death metal the way Fallujah have and their new album, The Flesh Prevails, has the potential to be a defining moment in the genre. This is where that battle between the spiritual and the violent start their auditory marriage ritual in full force.
Taking brutal, unrelenting death metal and adding touches of atmosphere here and some good, old fashioned technical proficiency there can be traced back to some of the early masters of stirring the musical melting pot. Bands Like Cynic, Pestilence, Atheist, and Nocturnus took death metal in wild directions back in the late 80’s and early 90’s with their incorporation of keyboards/synths, wild time signature changes, and an ethos built upon extraordinary musicianship. But it was really Finland’s Amorphis that took death metal to the more atmospheric territory that Fallujah often departs for. The direct descendants of many technical death metal bands are now simply bands that just try and jam as many notes as possible into one four-minute song and hope someone notices them doing it, like a bunch of children longing for mommy and daddy’s approval. Fallujah is more concerned with ambiance and mood than they are impressing you with how fast their fingers move up and down the fretboard. In this day and age, that’s a refreshing take.
From the opening notes of “Starlit Path” to the closing salvo of “Sapphire”, Fallujah have taken what they learned from their previous full length and expounded on it in dynamic ways. Layers and layers of music are constantly fighting for your attention, yet not in a way that comes off as clumsy or cluttered. There are passages here where Fallujah are committing a veritable holy war of sound, pummeling the listener with a blitzkrieg-like barrage yet simultaneously looking skyward and basking in the beauty of the blue sky above before it’s swallowed again in the smoldering ashes of the burning village beneath their feet. It would seem almost impossible for music so serene and calming to be successfully paired with the tonal opposite. However Fallujah not only make it work they triumph at it in ways the metal world hasn’t seen since such masterworks as Amorphis’ Tales From The Thousand Lakes, among others.
The Flesh Prevails will hit the streets via Unique Leader Records on July 22. You can check out the track “Levitation” over at A.V. Club. Make sure you catch Fallujah this summer on the the Summer Slaughter Tour.