Let’s face it: sometimes the subgenres of subgenres, or sub-subgenres; for the sake of clarity, let’s call them what I title them – microgenres, get a little out of hand. I certainly can appreciate the minutiae of subgenres, especially when it comes to metal. They help me differentiate stuff I want to listen to from the mountains of shit out there that I have, literally, zero interest in checking out. This holds especially true when it comes to black metal and its myriad of subgenres: technical black metal, traditional black metal, atmospheric black metal, etc. etc. etc.
Recently, however, it has been brought to my attention that there is an emergence occurring in the world of Technical Death Metal; one that, through the use of keyboards, samples, and electronics, delivers a more atmospheric or ethereal sound to the darkness that usually exists within the world of Death Metal. Some are calling this stuff atmospheric death metal, or atmospheric technical death, and these are just a few of the terms that I have heard to describe this sound. . . not to mention the ones that end with “-core.” This, I feel, is out of hand. Keyboards have been used in metal of all likenesses for decades, sometimes in seamless ways which add to the music (Dream Theater comes to mind), and sometimes in a more-than-gimmicky way that serves to distract from the core sound of the band (insert name of post-hardcore-wannabe-metal here). These bands that are found under this new microgenre label, to me, are simply death metal. . . or, more precisely, Technical (and/or Progressive Death Metal). . . with keyboards. . . done right. There’s no need to microgenre the hell out of the many aptly-divided death metal out there. One of these bands that seems to constantly come up in recent metal news, that certain metal sources want to label with this new microgenre is a death metal band that has been around for a while, and one that has gained a great deal of popularity in recent months, and even years: Fallujah.
Fallujah’s newest album, entitled “Dreamless,” is their best album in years. It is an extension of a sound that they have been developing for some time now. Long time listeners of Fallujah may recall their humble beginnings as a technically proficient death metal band with their first and second releases, entitled “The Leper Colony” and “The Harvest Wombs,” respectively. These albums introduced, and then cemented, Fallujah to the world of death metal, and its legions of devoted fans. These two recordings displayed a unique sound that was their own, and while that sound was exciting, like a lot of death metal releases, it did not bring forth anything new to the genre. Attempting not to repeat themselves, Fallujah released a teaser EP for fans entitled “Nomadic,” which served as an appropriate introduction to the new, still in progress, Fallujah sound – a newly developed, more melodic, and exploratory sound that Fallujah was to become. This sound included slower melodic breakdowns, more melodic solos, melodic female vocals, and more.
I, myself, admit that I found the EP a little more than polarizing, and it took me a while to warm up to the new sound. Fallujah fully unveiled their new style on the full-length release, entitled: “The Flesh Prevails” in 2014. While I enjoyed the album, I felt that there was an edge missing that had been a part of the “Fallujah-sound” since their first record releases. Now, with the release of Dreamless, Fallujah have brought back that metallic and aggressive “edge” and married it perfectly with their progressive and melodic sounds first introduced to fans through the release of the “Nomadic” EP. It’s as if this is the album that they have been striving to make as fans of the band have watched them continue to develop and push forward their overall style. . . this is their newly developed style fully fleshed, realized, and perfected. I feel like this is the album that the band has been striving to make since their abrupt transition on “Nomadic;” this is the band fully comfortable in its skin since shedding the tried and true death metal armor and heading into more adventurous and progressive depths. This time it’s not just working – it’s firing on all cylinders. The band deftly chose elements of some of metals most popular, innovative, and technical acts while managing not to sound as if they’re piggy-backing or blatantly copying any one of them; and they have the chops to execute such musicianship. Some parts of the album bring to mind aspects of bands like Dream Theater, Between the Buried and Me, and even the “Language-“era tones of The Contortionist (specifically the intro to the album’s title track).
“Dreamless” has all of the technical virtuosity and aggressive riffing which served as the focal point(s) of their first releases, yet also manages to uniquely marry it with their melodic side, newly introduced intricately interspersed electronics, and precise sweeping solos to beautifully form an overall more “progressive” sound toward which the band has been reaching in recent years. At times it’s almost like a more aggressive BTBAM, while still sounding very Fallujah.
Fans of the new Fallujah album are likely to be interested in checking out a not-yet-as-popular Some parts of the album bring to mind aspects of bands like Dream Theater, Between the Buried and Me, and even the “Language-“era tones of The Contortionist (specifically the intro to the album’s title track).
Yet a another band that has recently been on my metal radar is Earthside – another metal group often labeled under the previously harped-upon death metal microgenre. Although Earthside released their newest album, “A Dream in Static” in 2015, I am just – in the past month – discovering them. Their sound is extremely ethereal, progressive, technical, and, alas, heavy. The majority of the band’s 2015 recording is instrumental, and they are, primarily, an instrumental band, and they display their best riffing and progressive tendencies in their instrumental pieces. The album, however, is not an entirely instrumental one. After the listener realizes that Earthside is an instrumental band and begins to feel comfortable with their sound, vocals suddenly appear. The band was able to recruit some vocalists from the world of hard rock and metal to help add some variety to the recording. Specifically, the singers of Sevendust, Soilwork, and others add their talents to four of the bands songs; each singer featured individually on a particular track aptly suited to their vocal style. Notably, the work of Sevendust’s vocalist – Lajon Witherspoon – is reminiscent, on this track, of Incubus’ Brandon Boyd vocal style over a backdrop of precise, churning progressive metal track, and it works remarkably well.
The ethereal sound of both of these bands certainly adds something unique to the world of death and progressive metal, but shouldn’t be deserving of its own genre title. There are other bands out there that are currently doing similar, and equally as exciting and technically sound work. Fallujah and Earthside are simply two of my current favorites, and I hope that you check them out too. I am excited to hear more from both of these bands as the metal world follows their progression.
check it out:
Fallujah Dreamless (song):
Earthside A Dream in Static (full album):