Undying Light, by Fallujah, has been this writer’s most anticipated album since first hearing of the departure of standout death metal vocalist Alex Hoffman. Would the band maintain an unmatched level of excellence and innovation, taking the next evolutionary step and weathering their personnel change in stride? In a word—no. New vocalist, Antonio Palermo’s higher pitched screams fail to excite the way his predecessor’s did, often bleeding into the guitar riffs, which themselves are repetitive and droning. The technical skill of the band is not in question, but the songs themselves feel uninspired and rarely distinguish themselves from one to the next, leaving Undying Light the least engaging, surprising, and memorable album of an otherwise intimidating catalog.
Obviously, the first thing a seasoned Fallujah fan will notice is the change in vocals. For months, I’ve wondered how much of an upheaval the change would be. Initially, I was pleased to find Palermo’s performance serviceable, and in keeping with the overall vision of the band. However, the more times I listened to this record, the more apparent it became that the vocals are not what they were before.
The first problem is simply the pitch of Palermo’s voice. It is notably higher than Hoffman’s, and therefore lacks the guttural power that helped define Fallujah’s sound. Palermo’s voice tends to get lost in the relentless guitar riffs Undying Light presents. When he does switch up his vocal style, it’s usually to yell rather than scream, which helps emphasize some parts, most notably when repeating “Lazarus, Lazarus,” on the track “Sanctuary.” However, Palermo’s screams already remind me of dated metalcore bands, and the yells even more so.
Because Palermo’s voice is higher and more nasally in general, there is less contrast between his screams and the whispering and spoken word passages. I was worried Fallujah would abandon these types of stylistic vocal parts altogether, and though I’m pleased they stayed true to one of their signature sounds, the effect is so much less powerful.
The melodic sections are considerably weaker on this album in general. Some of the most impactful tracks on both The Flesh Prevails and Dreamless are the soft, ambient ones. Tracks like “Alone with You” and “Fidelio” do not feel like obligatory afterthoughts the way that “Distant and Cold” does. Where is the atmosphere? Where are the soaring, evocative voices we’ve heard in the past? Honestly, it’s frustrating because even in the lesser songs on Undying Light, it is obvious how talented this band is. “Distant and Cold” is a production. It presents a different mood from the tracks around it, and showcases some of the mixing skills of the band, but it is altogether too droning, as much of the album is.
The following track, “Departure,” is probably the most egregious case. You transition from a repetitive, droning track (that is meant to break the album up) straight into the most repetitive and droning track on the album—and this is what we are left to finish with. “Last Light,” “Dopamine,” and “The Ocean Above” also suffer from too many licks off the same riff. The parts simply aren’t engaging enough to produce the kinds of groovy soundscapes an audience can bask in for minutes on end.
In many ways, Undying Light simply looks bad beside its brethren. At no point on this album will you find a riff, vocal part, melodic interlude, or introspective ambient track that doesn’t have a superior counterpart on The Flesh Prevails or Dreamless. That being said, the stronger tracks like “Ultraviolet” and “Sanctuary” will come as a pleasant surprise to many metal fans who have not yet fallen in love with Fallujah. If you don’t believe me, look at the disparity between the opinions of reviewers who are long time fans and those new to the band. They could not be more polarized.
Though I find the vocals, song writing, and overall production of Undying Light to be a step back, I have already spun Undying Light scores of times, and will do so scores more. Undying Light is probably the worst album this band has produced, but even at their worst, Fallujah are still one of the best, and worth your time. Though I enjoy this album quite a bit, it will always be a disappointment when considering what might have been. Let this not be the start of a downward trajectory for what was the most ascendant band in metal.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Sanctuary”
RELEASE DATE: 3/15/19
FOR FANS OF: Black Crown Initiate, Rivers of Nihil