Fallujah’s time away from music was a necessary evil. With a new frontman in Antonio Palermo (of Underling fame), the Californians needed to look inside, go off their gut instincts for new music. While different from Dreamless, Fallujah’s new album, Undying Light, maintains the band’s signature sound — thoughtful, musical tech death — but pushes it to new heights. The edges are no longer always sharp and angular and the overall feeling isn’t as claustrophobic. Fallujah, as extreme as ever, are pushing the boundaries of their art. Cases in point: the ever-great “Ultraviolet,” opener “Glass House,” and the ultra-atmospheric “The Ocean Above.”
Decibel emailed a few times with guitarist/songwriter Scott Carstairs to find out more about Undying Light and how it’s positioning the tech death luminaries beyond their original mandate. In the Q&A below, Carstairs reveals Palermo’s onboarding, how he wowed the band and producer Mark Lewis, and how Fallujah approached the songwriting for their fourth (definitive) full-length. We also discuss the Nick Keller cover art, a piece that’s full of depth and meaning against Fallujah’s dreamy, complicated death. Egg-headed punters into Cynic, Pestilence, Ne Obliviscaris, and Decrepit Birth need to check out Undying Light now!
It’s better than
All that you could have imagined
Eyes closed, still see
Images of light
Can’t forget what you are” — “Ultravoilet”
How would you describe the new music on Undying Light?
Scott Carstairs: Raw, confident and new. I think the last couple of albums we spent a lot of time experimenting with different elements such as clean guest vocals, synthesizers, or different kinds of instrumentals. This time around we knew from the get-go that we wanted this record to be raw and honest: no frills, no filler, no guests. We wanted to move the music further but still showcase the sound and emotions this band has always evoked. With the addition of our new vocalist [Antonio Palermo], we have been able to take the sound to new levels of emotion, a sound we have been striving to achieve for years but couldn’t quite get to until now. We believe this is the truest sound we have honed on in yet.
Would you say it’s a follow-up to Dreamless or something else entirely?
Scott Carstairs: Something else entirely. We wanted this record to be a statement of what the band is and will continue to be. We made this record to illustrate who we are in our purest form.
Scott, you wrote most of Dreamless. How was the new album written?
Scott Carstairs: Just like previous records. I’m is the soul of the writing process. On previous records he would put together songs and collaborate with other guitar players. For this record, he was the only guitar player involved. There was definitely a vibe we honed in on as a group. Whether it be through conversation or jamming together. We knew we wanted this record to showcase a new era and focus on the purest form of the band. I would put together songs and share with the group, and the four of us would talk about where it was heading and how we could push it further towards our goals. There was a great sense of confidence and trust within each other. We all knew we had the skills and experience to put out a great record, we just needed to sit down and push ourselves to put out something special.
Vocalist Alex Hofmann departed in 2017. Monte Barnard was the stand-in. Now, you’ve enlisted Underling frontman Antonio Palermo. How did he enter the fold?
Scott Carstairs: Antonio has been one of the closest and oldest friends of Fallujah since The Harvest Wombs days. He actually had a guest spot on “Prison of the Mind,” and has been in the studio with us during every writing and recording process since then. He and Rob [Morey] had also started an atmospheric black metal project together around 2013 called Underling, which has been nothing short of critically successful with each release they’ve put out. One thing we always liked about Antonio’s vocal style is his ability to convey a raw, powerful sense of emotion in his performance, be it live or in the studio. When Alex left and we were looking for people, we found ourselves using his style of vocals as a reference for what we wanted our new vocalist to sound like. We gave him a shot and he killed it. The demos alone blew our minds. By the time we were listening back to his album takes in Nashville, the whole room had shivers. I think Mark Lewis [producer] in particular was blown away by his performance. It was something new yet nostalgic of classic records. It was a sound and vibe we knew was perfect for not only this record but a new era for the band. The main thing he brings to the table is not just a vocal style that’s both unique and instantly identifiable with his ability to convey the emotions contained in his lyrics, but he also brings a personality and skillset that’s allowed us to galvanize ourselves as a group moving forward.
Scott Carstairs: Antonio being such a talented lyricist with his previous projects, we had confidence that he would no problem writing the next era of Fallujah lyrics. Though Antonio was the main driver for lyrics, it was very much a collaborative effort. Antonio would first come up with the lyrical themes of each song and then run them passed us, so that we were all on the same page at the end of the day. The main things he wanted to bring to the table lyrically was an emotionally visceral experience for the listener. Beyond that, he wanted to bring these raw emotions together with the theme that our society is becoming increasingly ego-driven and apathetic due to the growing presence that social media plays in our lives. Each song is essentially a brush stroke that paints a picture of a disillusioned, narcissistic society that we’ve come to not only be witnesses of, but participants in. He juxtaposes the use of raw, visceral emotions to point out a general lack thereof. Also, by involving the rest of the band in his own creative process, we’ve come away with an album that we all are able to feel on a very emotional level, which is something new and exciting for us all.
How would you describe your time in the studio(s)? Workmanlike or was there a sense of ease
knowing this is your fourth full-length?
Scott Carstairs: This record felt a lot like the first record. We knew we could have gone in many directions with a new vocalist, and we had to be careful with that. There was a lot of pressure to create a sound that was new but still represented the soul of this project. Once we honed in on the vibe the rest of the process began to accelerate. The sound was something new and exciting. It was a vibe we hadn’t heard in our own music or music, in general. It was something we chased until it was finished.
What was it like working with Mark Lewis at OHMNI Studios? You worked with Zack Ohren
Scott Carstairs: With Dreamless we re-amped and tracked vocals with Zach Ohren and had Mark Lewis track drums, mix, and master. This time around we tracked all guitars and bass with myself and then had Mark track drums, vocals, re-amp, mix, and master. Having worked with Mark in the past, we were comfortable that he would nail the sound we wanted and help us take the music to the next level. This being his second time working with us I think he really understood what we needed. This time around there was a sense of confidence in everything we did. Every amp, snare, mic, kick, or tone we heard… We instantly knew if it was meant to be on the record. It was like we all had a very clear vision of what this record was supposed to be and just calmly brought it to life. The drums in particular ended up being the best tones and takes we’ve ever got on a record. Overall, is was a great experience. We all had confidence in each other and especially our music. It really felt like the culmination of working on music together for 10 years.
Tell us about the cover art. Peter Mohrbacher did the Dreamless cover.
Scott Carstairs: Cover was done by Nick Keller. Amazing artist. We had tried to commission in the past, but couldn’t work out until now. He is an immense talent that also has a passion for extreme music. One look at this guy’s portfolio and you know you’re dealing with a man with alien talents. He was also heavily involved in Peter Jacksons The Hobbit concept art, which is very cool for us, being huge fans of the franchise. He was able to paint the art to the vibe of the music, which is something we’ve always wanted an artist to do. The end result is something as mind-melting and psychedelic as the sound of record.
What do you want fans to hear in Undying Light? Interpretation is, of course, understood, but is there a message or directive you’d like to get across?
Scott Carstairs: As far as a message we want to convey with Undying Light, it’s that these 10 songs are nothing short of being a genuine expression of our creativity as a band. If it felt good to us, we went with it. Having new members to offer new, fresh perspectives also kept us in that headspace. If we were stuck on a part, we’d often ask, “What’s your gut saying about this part?” So, we really let our instincts guide us. It helped push ourselves as artists by relying on our instincts to progress creatively. We strongly believe that this new record will give our fans something they will love just as much as we do. Just as we’ve become galvanized as a band, we hope this record will also rekindle a fire within our fans around the world and show them that we took the past year off for a reason — that is to give them a body of music worthy of their unwavering support, dedication, and loyalty they’ve shown us all these years.
** Fallujah’s new album, Undying Light, is out now on Nuclear Blast Records. It’s available direct from Nuclear Blast on CD, orange LP, or in a t-shirt bundle. Click HERE to experience the new Fallujah era!