Album Review: Fallujah — “Empyrean”

While Kardashev may be the first (or at least the first to put the term way out into modern parlance), they are not the only atmospheric death metal band out there, as fans of Fallujah well know.  While often classified purely as tech death, Fallujah have cultivated a sound all their own that thrives on delicate atmosphere and subtle melody as much as technical precision, as well as guitarist Scott Carstairs’ mind-bending prowess.  On Empyrean, the band lay all their cards out on the table and double down on what makes them great and unique among their peers.

The last few Fallujah albums have seen the now-quartet do a fair amount of experimentation with their sound, but on Empyrean, they look to the past to inspire them for the future ahead.  “Empyrean is truly a return to form because we are doing what comes naturally to us, but with an intensity that we haven’t achieved in the past.  We set out to create something that represents the band and its history in its purest form while also pushing our technical abilities further than we have ever gone,” says guitarist extraordinaire and principal songwriter Scott Carstairs.  While their recent creative explorations have certainly helped Carstairs and long-time collaborator Andrew Baird, what really stokes the fire on Empyrean is the addition of Kyle Schaefer on vocals and Mr. Evan Brewer on bass.  Obviously, I’m going to take a second to gush about Brewer later in the review, but fans of both Fallujah and Brewer’s extensive resume should see this addition as a no-brainer.  He fits the band like a glove, and his lock-step riffing with Carstairs is seamless and as fluid as ever.  Empyrean was the process of the band cutting out all the fat from their music that they could find, locking in with new members and making sure that every aspect of every song was going to land.  “We meticulously scrutinized every riff and note choice.  There has never been this much effort put into a Fallujah record as we did with Empyrean, and the result is a truly monstrous record that we believe is the band’s best work by a significant margin,” says Carstairs.

Empyrean certainly comes out of the gate heavy and fast.  The one-two punch of “The Bitter Taste of Clarity” into “Radiant Ascension” is sure to satisfy fans of Fallujah looking for that classic technical-meets atmospheric sound palette before the proggy goodness of “Embrace Oblivion” kicks in.  The ultra-fast, extremely melodic rapid-fire riffs that the band is known for have never been stronger, and while it probably doesn’t need to be said at this point, I think it’s worth pointing out that Scott Carstairs is one of the best damn guitarists of this generation.  Between the killer riffs, the outrageous solos and the atmospheric lead work that backs up a lot of the anthemic choruses, Empyrean is a guitar enthusiast’s wet dream (as are most Fallujah albums, but still).  Between Carstairs and Brewer, the stringed instruments shine brighter than ever, and you really do feel a sense of renewed vigor with the way the two of them abuse their fretboards.  Couple that with the blistering drums from Baird, and you have what might be the most straight-ahead fist-pumpingly enjoyable Fallujah album since The Flesh Prevails.

Empyrean is not an album to be slept on.  It is an album that is supremely technical, without sacrificing the anthemic choruses and catchy hooks, but more than that, this is a Fallujah album that fans of Fallujah are going to rejoice over.  Of course, you can use this as a springboard into the rest of the band’s discography, but Empyrean is for the day ones out there as much as it is new fans.  Wherever you fall on that spectrum, you need to give it its fair spin, full stop.

– Ian

Empyrean will be available September 9 on Nuclear Blast Records.  For more information on Fallujah, visit their Facebook page.

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