How Fallujah are merging the worlds of metal and sci-fi

Fallujah promo band photo 2016
allujah (left to right): Andrew Baird, Alex Hofmann, Brian James, Scott Carstairs, Robert Morey

Fallujah frontman Alex Hofman was working as aPAonthesetofthe new X-Files series when he noticed something important. To make Mulder, Scully and their paranormal friends believable, the crew were striving to find ways to manipulate the viewers’ feelings without their knowledge. “I saw how much went into cinematic techniques used to unconsciously evoke emotion,” he says. “I was watching scenes being shot and actors getting into character, trying to replicate their emotions. It was really interesting.”

It’s an approach he’s carried into Fallujah’s latest album, Dreamless, which brims with cinematic nuance and is the latest step on the journey for a death metal band who are fixated with progress.

The band formed in 2007 while Alex and fellow founding member Scott Carstairs were in high school in San Francisco’s Bay Area, notorious for its legendary 80s thrash scene, though Alex is quick to establish distance from it. “The scene we came up in had nothing to do with that. It was a young scene, with bands like Animosity and All Shall Perish; it was a cool time,” he recalls. “A few days after me and Scott graduated, Fallujah went on our first tour, and it’s been a full-time thing ever since.”

Their desire to surpass the limitations of the deathcore scene shone in the tech-death of 2011 debut full-length The Harvest Wombs, hinting at progressive atmospheres to come, before they found their voice on 2014’s The Flesh Prevails, an assault of uplifting devastation with layers of contrasting rhythm and melody wrought around relentless blasts. It was a huge stride forward.

“It was a matter of us getting better at writing songs,” says Alex, speaking with assured sharpness. “I think each album is going to be different. We hate it when bands write the same album twice.”

Dreamless, their forthcoming third album, and the first to be released on German über-label Nuclear Blast, represents yet another stylistic shift. In moving away from blasting complexity into less claustrophobic spaces, Fallujah have lost none of their weight, just refocused its impact, with groove replacing speed. “We don’t want to be some typical death metal band,” Alex continues bluntly. “We want to be more diverse, and I think that Dreamless is as diverse as we’ve done so far. We wanted the album to have a big, fat ass! We wanted epic, open-spaced parts and a focus on crushing atmosphere as opposed to intensity.”

That atmosphere amid the brutality comes from the sounds he listens to when he’s away from the band, which he sees as vital to their development. “Metal only comes into my life when we’re on tour or making a record. On my own time, I like electronic music,” he confesses. “Metal is its own worst enemy; outside influence is key. You need inspiration from unique places. Without an open mind, what do you expect to change?”

The album also shows a thematic shift, inspired by Alex’s experiences working on The X-Files. “There are so many things going on in every shot,” he marvels of his time on set. “I wanted to do this idea where I looked at all the films that had been influential to me and found parallels I can draw with my life. I’m not going to tell you which films – I’m intrigued to see if people can figure it out.”

We wanted the album to have a big, fat ass!

Within the framework of each song, the composition of a shot is replicated, melody adding light and shade, rhythm providing the angle, and Alex’s enraged vocal providing the narrative focus. It’s an intriguing approach to song- writing that pays off in emotional soundscapes reminiscent of the glowering beauty of Vangelis’s beloved Blade Runner soundtrack.

At odds with such thirst for progression is a long- standing issue with their name, Fallujah – a city in Iraq that saw some of the most devastating combat of the 2003 invasion. To the band, it represents humanity’s inhumanity. To others, it represents a band appropriating a word with a huge cultural and political significance that they have no connection with. It’s caused enough misunderstanding to warrant a defence in their Facebook bio, and it’s clear they’ve been constantly questioned about it. The mere mention of the controversy today makes Alex bristle. “Yeah, this is the part where I say, ‘No.’” There’s an awkward pause, before he expands a little. “What makes the name relevant was politically driven, but we’re not really that kind of band any more. It was the right name at the time,” he reluctantly divulges, “and… the term is still relevant. It’s still incredibly contentious; it’s not just some past time.” But why keep the name if you’re no longer that kind of band? “I don’t think any of us have ever thought about changing the name. It would have been the wrong decision for many reasons. Besides, I like it.”

The band have spent the past five years getting that name known in the States, Canada and Europe, and will return to the UK in July for Tech-Fest. But their time on the road hasn’t been without hiccups. “On Summer Slaughter in Canada two years ago, we were doing a 37- hour drive – the most ridiculous drive we’ve done,” Alex remembers. “We’d made it halfway through Ontario, driving at night behind [Californian tech-death crushers] The Faceless. They slammed right into this pack of moose, though they did everything they could to avoid them. Their van was destroyed. We did the whole of the rest of the tour sharing our van with them and their crew. All of a sudden your comfortable space is filled with dudes… we got to know them pretty well!”

Fallujah are determined to carve a unique path, separate from the Bay Area legacy, separate from deathcore, separate from death metal, separate even from elements of their own past. This is about taking a form of expression they love in new directions, pushing away from metal’s cult of self-reference, and inducing passion in their fans.

“You have to make music that will become nostalgic for people without them having any memories attached to it. That’s what Fallujah tries to do,” Alex explains.

In turning their backs on the heavy metal nostalgia trip, Fallujah are laying down the gauntlet. Let’s push things forward.