Dreamless forms an ambitious step forward for Fallujah, who have described describe their desires to move beyond the tech death label they earned with their first two albums. Stating that “This album is a major step forward with the goal in mind of transcending the limitations of not only the death metal sound but the scene at large,” vocalist Alex Hofmann has set the bar so high for his group, it’s hardly surprising that the final product doesn’t really reach it.
One of the more prominent parts of the group’s formula for Dreamless is a percussive presence which seems to rejoice in showing its drum-trigger nature, hitting steady high-speed rolls reminiscent of, say, Destrage or some other modern speed metal groups with a shot of weirdness to their material. Along with that, there are low-mixed vocals, making for some interesting interactions with the bass range, which venture away from standard death-growls just a handful of times over the course of the album. The guitar-work pretty much steals the show whenever it goes into solo mode, demonstrating a fluidity and vibrancy that’s almost giddy, while layers of backing vocals and electronics are worked in without overwhelming the core experience. There are a couple of tracks, such as “Les Silences”, where these ornamental pieces become the full focus, sharpening the distinct imbalance of their integration in the main body.
As such, though the thick-packed death metal consumes the majority of the album, there’s a nice sprinkling of spots which thin out the din and venture into a higher register, in songs such as “The Void Alone”, the title track, and the semi-interlude of “Fidelio”. In these intervals the band comes closest to accomplishing their stated goals, incorporating proggish touches that, while not “transcending” death metal, certainly infuse some experimentation. There are some odd effects going on with the mixing, leading things to sound oddly muffled at times (beyond the level of simple dynamic contrast), and while it’s generally not too pronounced, there are occasions at which it pulls attention away from what’s being played.
Another part of the press hype (besides the amusing claim that “the metal scene is immeasurably lacking in bands that offer emotional and atmospheric material,”) finds the vocalist outlining how the songs of Dreamless are directly inspired by films he’s fond of, though it’s left unclear as to whether there’s a one-to-one correlation, or if it’s a less-distinguished soup of cinematic ideas. Given the ambiguity, there’s an almost Tool-like level of vague invocation in effect, leaving the listeners to convince themselves that there’s something deeply meaningful going on behind the allusions.
Despite the troubled presentation and hubristic hype, the majority of the album does come off quite well, thanks to talented performances, ambitious songwriting, and strong support between the instruments. When the group hits on a working vein of melody or riffing, they tend to mine it well, pulling forth chunks of impressive hammer-beat assaults and assembling more delicate constructions. While Fallujah have done a nice job here, it’s hard not to think how much better they would have been served by simply presenting it as a set of material on which they worked very hard, instead of trying to assign it qualities of paradigmatic revolution.