Household names and the vile mainstream. Bands that are seemingly known by everybody beyond their (un)usually vast fan multiverse. And – at times – it appears that they’re everywhere. Even if only a minor percentage of the music-producing masses will qualify.
Now, the metal world is a tad more restrained, but you got them as well. And the Bay Area folks of Fallujah are one of them. At least in Extreme Metal circles, they are. And even if you never listened to any one of their concoctions, you surely heard their name mentioned over and over again.
Born in 2007, the band rapidly rose to fame. From harsh, ‘coreish beginnings, their call to glory meandered through a variety of style changes to today’s – step back into the fold of former tropes. Well, perhaps their much contested 2019 album Undying Light played a role in their search for better directional wisdom. Or was it those wild lineup changes that led to a firmer sound? Who knows, right?
Because Empyrean here sports almost barebone Technical Death Metal playing tag team with a pretty tasty progressive lilt. It all starts and continues with a vicious bite of the bass that accompanies all those wild metallic gyrations to the proverbial core. And, often enough, this whole metal bedlam switches to post and goes clear voice on ye (Radiant Ascension). Specifically, when the record tries to access all that goodness the prog world has on offer.
In other words, Fallujah‘s style choices just landed them in a difficult spot. On one hand, the year 2022 is stuffed with pretty neat to excellent Tech Death. On the other, they’ll compete with a shocking heap of outstanding prog that emerged over the last few months. Thus, fusion genres like this one need to excel on a few fronts at once. And that’s a difficult proposition at best. But I truly think that the band realized that – to an extent.
And yet. Empyrean rushes through their offering with an absurd avalanche of often pretty sturdy high-speed tech. So much so that the sudden hard turns into proggy passages somewhat come as a confusing surprise. In other words, the record often feels like the soundtrack of the 101st edition of Fast and Furious with Vin Diesel in cahoots with Lucy’s next-generation AI speed brain. Only to abruptly stop in that nirvana where Haken usually dwells, screeching brakes and squeaking joints included. And this breathless heavy lifting frequently buries the outstanding super-riffs on this record and the generally grandiose solos that suddenly erupt from nowhere. Yet again, tracks like Soulbreaker or – to a lesser extent – the aforementioned Radiant Ascension managed to seriously get on our good side. Those truly are reminders of what could have been.
And I daresay, the 52-minute airplay more feels like a 2-hour haul than a still acceptable album length. Not because atrocious viciousness got the better of us, but more because the tracks have a tendency to meander aimlessly around the soundscape. Case in point, the pretty neat instrumental blurb Celestial Resonance noodles about the soundscape with seemingly no end in sight. And that pulls it way down which is indeed a pity. Because the excellent prog infusion and – again – the riffs and solos in there really are remarkable.
Empyrean sounds like made by a band that wanted to take things a step further.1) But instead, they threw the whole friggin’ kitchen at the audience and forgot about the finer points of tech death and prog songsmithing. This doesn’t mean that Fallujah created a bad record. Not at all. The piece is chock-a-block with all sorts of excellent bits and pieces. However, the cross-over into the prog field often didn’t follow through as smoothly as other Extreme Metal bands managed in the recent past.
So ultimately, the RMR crew found a somewhat rough-hewn pile of often outstanding tech and prog that boldly navigates through these treacherous waters filled with reefs. And some of them they – unfortunately – couldn’t avoid hitting. Thus, it takes more than what Empyrean currently has on offer to match it with true prog death geekery. Undying Light was indeed worse – and some called it a catastrophe. Hence, all those starry-eyed fanboys ‘n’ girls gleefully pawing this new record as if the metal messiah just returned to mama. But let’s face it. Empyrean truly is a step up compared to the last album. It will however take another few notches to really get to the level of excellence that this band surely is capable of.
Maybe next time, we’ll be waiting.