Fallujah’s Scott Carstairs: “Radiant Ascension is the hardest solo I’ve ever had to perform... that’s the only way to improve: really intense, difficult s**t”

Scott Carstairs
(Image credit: Stephanie Cabral)

When pandemic lockdowns pushed Bay Area-formed tech-metal veterans Fallujah off the road, it also pushed guitarist Scott Carstairs into an existential, career-questioning tailspin. 

To cope, the musician turned his attention to a different kind of tech – namely, the Twitch platform. After creating a profile, Carstairs began livestreaming riff workshops and Q&A’s a few times a week, connecting with fans on an intimate level he’d never before experienced online. Part of that, he’d argue, was survival instinct. 

“I posted stuff [in the past] because it was a requirement to being in a band – you have to be on social media – but now this is going to be my lifeline. I have nothing else,” the Fallujah founder recalls of developing his Twitch base in 2020. “I just have this computer, this apartment and this shutdown-ass city. What else am I supposed to do?”

An adaptive mentality is likewise found in The Bitter Taste of Clarity, the ferocious leadoff track from Fallujah’s fifth full-length, Empyrean. Thematically, it’s about “realizing you’re in a downward spiral, [but] it’s time to head out of this place and put in the work to change.” 

In terms of Carstairs’ playing, the blast-intensive opener finds him working a feverish fretboard immediacy that stands in stark contrast to the ambient, blackgaze tonality he brought to Fallujah’s fan-divisive 2019 release, Undying Light. While Carstairs loved the wide-open vibe of Undying Light, he reveled in amping up the aggression for Empyrean, which taps into the spirit of “an excited 17-year-old who knows how to play guitar.”

Fallujah’s lineup also morphed between releases, with former the Faceless bassist Evan Brewer now popping brutally funked-up, progressive rhythms into Carstairs’ arrangements (“I’ve called him the G.O.A.T. of metal bass playing for years”). Gearwise, Carstairs was recording with his new signature guitar, the Kiesel SC7X, which has his screaming, newly developed Empyrean pickup in the neck position. “If you’re into that ’80s shred with lots of legato, [the Empyrean pickup’s] really versatile and dynamic.”

Fittingly, Carstairs pushes his soloing to the extreme on Empyrean’s Radiant Ascension, which surges with chaotic melodicism, mid-arpeggio key changes, and frenetic, tap-augmented sweeps. 

“This is the hardest solo I’ve ever had to perform,” he confirms, adding of his current path with Fallujah, “I was trying to make a point with that [solo]. Like a ‘fuck you, look at us’ kind of thing. But it’s also something that scared the shit out of me. I feel like that’s the only way to improve: really intense, difficult shit.”

  • Empyrean (opens in new tab) is out now via Nuclear Blast.

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Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling (opens in new tab). This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.