Fallujah – Being True to Themselves

Thursday, 21st March 2019

Probably one of the most talked about bands in extreme metal in the last few years, Fallujah have made a name for themselves in adapting the fury of death metal into something that can be emotionally compelling and melancholic. With some changes for their fourth album (a new vocalist and reduction in the guitar department to just one player), there was bound to be some head-turning as the band continued to go in the direction of their passions, instead of simply towing the line. We caught up with guitarist Scott Carstairs, who passionately talked to us about the band’s recent time in Europe, the ins and outs of Undying Light, and thoughts on different emotions in extreme music.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the European tour go?

Scott Carstairs: It was awesome. It might be one of my favorite European tours that I have done…for so many reasons. For one, just to play with the band’s that we were with. They are sick – I love Obscura. Cosmogenesis was pretty important to me. I’ve known the guys in Obscura – they played our cd release back in 2011. Allegaeon has had members of their band fill in and tour with us, and we know them. We’ve toured with First Fragment too. As soon as we got to the bus, everyone was friends and having fun. As far as that aspect goes, it was pretty awesome just knowing everybody.

We have done a lot of death metal tours: Dying Fetus, Suffocation, Thy Art is Murder, Whitechapel. All of them are amazing bands and inspiring. But bands like Obscura, First Fragment, and Allegaeon – they are a little more nerdy [laughs]. I’m not sure how to describe it. On the Suffocation/Dying Fetus tour, you didn’t see the green room filled with dudes with guitars in their hands nerding out, talking about chords and writing. It was a very nerdy tour. Everyone is really passionate about making music and the journey. It was super cool to relate to everyone on that level.

We haven’t been on tour for like a year. We have a new vocalist, new songs, and a lot of anticipation about how everything is going to go, and what people were going to think. The audience reception was amazing! They totally understood what we were going for with Antonio [Palermo], and I really believe that our live show is better than it has ever been. We are older, we are all on in-ears, everyone is jamming well, and the music sounds great. We have been preparing for months, and you can see it in the reception.

It’s like our 4th or 5th time going into Europe, and to really see our fanbase was cool. The first tour when you go to Europe, no one knows who you are. The second tour, you have some dudes in t-shirts. With the third tour, we had our own fans, and with this tour, we are really seeing these people as fans of the band. You have this group of people talking to you and telling you about the first time they saw you, and their thoughts on the new music. It was such a good time all around.

Dead Rhetoric: That’s great to hear. You hear about European bands having to break through to the US audience, it makes sense that it works the same way for a US band in Europe.

Carstairs: Maybe I am going off my own gut here, but in Europe, it’s hard really just to say Europe because each country is so unique. The way that the Italians, Swiss, French, and Germans have their own ways that they react. They all have their own way of speaking to you, and being honest about certain things. I’m sure you’ve heard of German honesty and things like that [laughs]. They will say, “I don’t like this, but I’m going to buy everything.” I think they don’t buy into trends as much as Americans do.

When a band gets big in America, everyone is all on the same page. In Europe, you really have to show that you are the real deal. You aren’t just a band showing up, they want to see you with albums and putting in the work, and getting over on tours. I think they have respect for that, and it’s really cool.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you describe the evolution of Fallujah with Undying Light?

Carstairs: I think with this album, we really just wanted to make a statement as a band. As a group of people that are in the band. We had a lot of ideas and a vision of what we wanted to do with this record. On our other elements, we had a lot of guest spots and a lot of elements that were brought in from various people. Whether it was singing and having female singers to put some flavor on it, or a solo guitarist to put some shred. We wanted this album to really be us. We are starting a new era for the band. One of the themes of the band has been experimenting and you aren’t going to get the same album twice. I know people are always wondering what we are doing to do, and if we go in one direction or another.

We wanted to make a hard statement about what we are going to do and what we are going to for the next few years. We wanted something authentic to us – the four of us in the band – and this is our vision. This is what we wanted, uninfluenced by other bands and the trends going on. This is what we think is true to the band. We don’t want to jump off the path and do a whole new thing. We wanted to keep the Fallujah sound, but with a full sounding mix with more air and room to breathe. I think we really nailed the vocal patterns too. We still have that aggression, but we were able to let it breathe. The way that Antonio and I worked on the vocal patterns is something we haven’t really done before in the band. We were really able to meticulously make sure that each vocal pattern had its spot to shine and wasn’t clashing with the other instruments. The riffs were set up in that way too.

We were writing so fast on the other albums that we just wrote the songs and put vocals on it, and went to the next one. For this album, we thought from the beginning about things like making a part more open so that we could fit things perfectly, or that the bass could shine. We needed the kick drums to be spaced in a way so that they really rumble the speakers. We played a lot with air and space. Some people want some more craziness, but some people are totally understanding and saying that it sounds unique in and of itself. It’s mature-sounding in the way that it moves and breathes. On our previous albums, we were younger. The first album we put out, I was 17. You can’t help but be influenced. You can really hear the Californian death/tech death thing. Decrepit Birth, The Faceless, things like that. It’s your first record – you are just taking these sounds that you love and making your version of it. Now we are to an age where we want to be uninfluenced and unassociated.

Dead Rhetoric: So with this album, do you really feel like you have hit the mark with what Fallujah is? At least for the time being?

Carstairs: Yeah, I really feel confident in this album. When it was finished and I got to listen to it, it feels like a cohesive project. Everything has its place. It’s not like a guitar player virtuoso band that happens to have a vocalist on top of it. It feels like each piece is a part of a unit. In other albums, I think other instruments take over. Me being a guitar player and writing the music, it’s hard to not have an album come out sounding guitar-driven. I think on this album, we were able to approach it in a more thought-out and mature way, in terms of how we could get the instruments to shine and blend things together into a more cohesive piece.

The theme of the band of experimenting is always going to push further – make sure we are hitting that emotional sound. I’m really happy with how it came out. It really sounds like its own thing, at least to me. I love metal music, so I can usually pick up on when something sounds like another band, or has influences, or if we are tapping into something else. It really feels like we honed in on our own vibe and exploited it, and ran with it. It’s risky to do that, because when you get to the point of having 15 songs and needing to select with ones to finish, it makes the music lean in a certain direction – maybe it’s a riff-y album, or if you pick different songs it becomes a heavier album. I think we really picked songs with the right vibe. We weren’t worried about how technical it was, so to say. We weren’t making sure we had a 2-minute long solo. We aren’t going to get points for not having the song that’s literally insane. When you are younger, you are definitely thinking about stuff like that – crazy solos, crazy singing, stuff like that.

We really focused on the music and making sure it sounded the best it possibly could. That resonated with us personally. I think if you are authentic to yourself, and you are doing something that really means something to you – we are all unique but we share kind of share things in common with other people. If it affects you and makes you feel something, it’s gotta make other people feel something, so we sort of stuck with that vibe.

I think it is a shock to many people’s system. I don’t think they expected us to go this hard and be ourselves, instead of being a compilation of other bands put together. I kind of unapologetically just did it. Some people totally get it – on this tour, all of the people I talked to…maybe it’s a European thing, as they have more of that At the Gates influence, but they understand it. A lot of our fans were freaking out – not a lot but that minority on the Internet.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s this weird contrast when you put something out on the Internet. There’s this perception that there are all of these people griping about things – be it vocals or musical direction, but then there is the other portion of group that are actively supporting and going to shows.

Carstairs: Yeah, it does seem to be different people I notice.

Dead Rhetoric: Were you expecting some uproar, given all of the history with Alex [Hofmann] on vocals?

Carstairs: Yeah – I never really thought too hard about being safe. I knew this would freak some people out and get some people excited. But it was what we wanted to do as a group with the vocals. It’s not like some people are making it out to be – that we just picked [Antonio] because he was around. We auditioned so many people and tried so many different sounds. From a guy who sounded like Alex to a guy who was an incredible singer that added this whole new element, to dudes that sounded like Antonio. We really wanted someone who was going to be themselves. We wanted to add a new character to the band. That’s what we have always wanted to do. Everyone needs to be themselves and express themselves, and grow as their own person – we aren’t copying anybody else.

I couldn’t go with it to find someone who sounded like Alex and just continued what he was doing. This was an opportunity to try a new sound and expand. When we auditioned Antonio, he had an aggression that wasn’t there at all. The music has always had that, and on some parts, the vocals didn’t quite match that range of emotion. The vocals were brutal, which helped push that side of the music and that’s what I think fans liked was that contrast. There was this really brutal stuff and then we went into some pretty stuff. When I heard his [Antonio’s] demos, I knew this was it. He reminded me of the underlying black metal tones that we have always had, but the aggression that you get from At the Gates. It made it sound more real to me. When you get angry, and you are screaming – you don’t growl “What the fuck dude?” – You fucking scream!

To me, once I heard it all come together, I knew this was it. This was real emotional music. The full package, to me at least. There are certain bands that you listen to them, but its only a certain member that you are listening to. This is a great group of dudes that have come together and make this music. I’m not sure what bands I could reference – maybe Gojira or Metallica or Pantera. Pantera are just themselves. It’s those members, and they are a part of a unit, and they all have a special voice within the unit, but when they come together, it’s just its own sound. It’s completely unique to itself. It’s so cool when you can hear bands do that. Bands that are completely and unapologetically themselves. It really inspires us when we are making music. To have the music come together and really feel that way made it very satisfying to us. That’s one of the reasons that it’s my favorite album yet.

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