“It’s a long time coming,” said Fallujah‘s co-founder and guitarist Scott Carstairs, thinking about fourth record Undying Light coming together and being released last Friday.
“We were visualising what this album would be almost two years ago, and so much has happened since then… Really figuring out how to take this next step and watching it come together makes me feel the most excited I’ve been for an album.”
The Californian progressive metal group have experienced rapid yet upward change over those last two years, with longstanding vocalist and creative force Alex Hofmann leaving the band in 2017. The singer frequently pushed his and Fallujah’s limits, particularly on third record Dreamless (2016), being a strong believer in the band’s ethos of breaking above and beyond their tech death roots.
Carstairs sat down last week to chat about Undying Light, album imagery where sun meets water, and bringing vocalist Anthony Palermo from Underling into the family – his respect for the man was palpable.
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There have obviously been huge changes, with former singer Alex leaving and Anthony coming in. What’s great is that most of Undying Light was written without a vocalist, and then he came in and ran with the vision.
“For sure. It’s not too different from what we’ve done on our last records. I spent a lot of time putting the songs together and getting the structures ready. When Anthony came in three-quarters of the way into the writing process, we were working on refining it and creating space for the vocals. I think we worked together pretty smoothly, and wrote them in a way so that they sit in, not on top of the music… One of the reasons I’m really enjoying it is because it sounds full and clean, but is also something that you can digest.”
For sure. With Alex stepping away, something he’s always talked about is this legacy of transcending the limits of tech death metal in terms of both sound and the scene. Is that view of embodying much more than just a tech death band still very much alive?
“I’m not too sure. I think people are definitely starting to recognise us as having our own sound. Especially with the new vocals we’ve brought in and the album, I think we pushed that even further. We’re always going to have our roots of where we come from, as far as intense, technical metal. But we’re leaning more towards creating progressive music and sound through an aggressive platform. So I think people are starting to figure that out and those are the kinds of emotions that we’re trying to put out there. It’ll come through live especially.”
Now take me back to when you sent a couple of demos over to Anthony and approached him as a potential singer. Talk me through him taking those demos, and then you listening to it and going, ‘Wow. He’s the one’.
“Yeah! As soon as we announced that Alex was leaving the band, I think our chat was filled with hundreds of people sending in submissions immediately. It was pretty interesting going through all of them and listening to people’s takes. But we only took about 10-15 seriously, looking for the demos and then asking for second tapes. They were talented people that others had recommended to us, and people we’d met on the road…
“We were asking them to just be their natural selves, in terms of them doing this music. We didn’t want somebody to do their impression of Alex and nail that. We saw this as more of an opportunity to take the sound to new places.
“It got down to a couple of guys, and every time I heard a demo from Anthony, I was personally blown away by it. It sounded exactly how the music made me feel, and that was most important to me. It was very cohesive sounding, like it belonged there rather than played towards a gimmick. Also the fact that Anthony’s had his own musical journey that he’s dedicated to…
“I knew he was going to be the one that would be able to bring what we were envisioning to light.”
What’s cool as well is that you guys have known Anthony for the past ten years. He’s been at writing sessions, your local shows and even had a spot on your first record The Harvest Wombs (2011).
“Yeah! He did a guest vocal on the song ‘Prison of the Mind‘. He was always our friend that was involved in more black metal type of music. There was a part of the song where he just had to do it while we were hanging out in the studio (chuckles). It was kind of funny how things have worked out like that. But he’s always been a close friend that we’ve talked to about music and had over while we’re writing. We’d discuss what would take a song to the next level, and he’d also show me the records he was working on with his band Underling. He was someone we could always bounce ideas off of.
“He was so clearly for this new record that we’re just lucky he exists (laughs). This is our fourth record as well, so the person that we picked had to be a strong enough character to pull it off on their own, and not replicate anybody… You can’t just want an opportunity to travel the world and play music, it has to be more than that, because otherwise you’re going to end up leaving the project in a couple years.”
Yeah absolutely. I don’t believe that Alex is ever replaceable, because he’s made such a mark with Fallujah ever since you first started.
“Yeah for sure. We’re always going to have those records. They’re always going to be very special for certain fans, and we’re going to play them live. The family aspect has definitely been a huge part of the band. It’s important that we’re all in it for the same thing. Everyone works hard and trusts each other.”
Let’s bring it back to Undying Light and your personal process of making the record. What have been some of your favourite moments in terms of putting it together?
“I think being able to create music that I really resonate with and is emotionally satisfying, which is really hard to do. It is a never-ending journey of chasing something when it comes to making music. There’s a large portion of this album that was much more adventurous, and it came out in a really cool, organic way. If you want to talk specifically, there’s a part in the middle of ‘The Ocean Above’ where we wanted to do a more drone-y, atmospheric, Radiohead style song, but still have this overarching them of projecting the sounds of water.
“It wasn’t so much about making the coolest riff or sound, but being able to create something that lends itself to a vision. So using reverb as what I imagine to be sunlight going through water, and then using really descriptive, metaphoric lyrics such as ‘Sunlight sinks above us’. It kind of gives you the vision of being underwater while the sun’s setting. Painting a really big picture… That’s what I really like about the music and this album, where the lyrics, tones and overall message are all resonating at the same time.
“When it gets completed, you can feel it.”
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Feel the sun filtering down on your face while underwater with Undying Light here, and join Fallujah in the latest chapter of their journey – there’s no ‘Hollow’ feeling.
Interview by Genevieve Gao
Fallujah – Undying Light tracklisting
1. Glass House
2. Last Light
5. The Ocean Above
8. Eyes Like The Sun
9. Distant And Cold