Full of Hell & Merzbow: A Review
I recently traveled to Arizona, and upon my departure I began reading Our Band Could Be Your Life. I managed to make it through the first two chapters during my time spent on airplanes. The book is about the “indie rock” movement, bands that used a DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos and were not under corporate rule during the period of the 1980s and 1990s. The first chapter in the book was about none other than the seminal hardcore institution Black Flag. Interesting story, well written chapter. The story of Black Flag during the 1980s is largely the story of lead guitarist and de facto leader Greg Ginn’s relationship with the young, volatile Henry Rollins. The internet says that “hardcore music is generally faster, heavier, and more abrasive than regular punk rock”. Black Flag, along with Minor Threat and Bad Brains, are considered the “Big Three” of hardcore punk. Black Flag were also well known for confrontations with the police at their shows, and violence between performers and fans. In the 1980s, Black Flag were heavier, faster, and more brutal than punk rock had ever been. They also branched out the furthest from the hardcore of their day and have been cited as major influences through punk, hardcore, and metal since their inception as a band.
Fast forward to the present day. Chaotic genre changers Full of Hell enlisted the help of “legendary noise godfather” Merzbow for their first release on underground metal heavyweight label Profound Lore Records. Full of Hell are marketed by Profound Lore as a hardcore/grindcore unit. They have also released a slew of noise projects, plainly and effectively labeled FOH NOISE. Full of Hell have an impressive back catalog for such a young band; Merzbow may be the most prolific artist in noise music, with hundreds of releases to his credit. On paper, this collaboration makes a lot of sense. How are the results?
Full of Hell announce their intent on the opening three tracks of Full of Hell & Merzbow, which is to destroy everything in their path. Full of Hell are playing their tightest grind to date. I noticed immediately this album also has the “best”, or cleanest, production on anything Full of Hell related I have heard. “Burnt Synapse” is fast, fast, fast, until a brief breakdown occurs before the end of the track. Vocalist Dylan Walker makes use of both a high pitched grind shriek and lower death growls over these first opening tracks, for several listens I was convinced it was two different vocalists altogether. “Gordian Knot” is more of the same, an onslaught, with no quarter given. The first three tracks all come in at about or under one minute each. The album slows, momentarily, halfway into its fourth track and advance single “Blue Litmus”. Full of Hell use every weapon at their disposal on this album. After three and a half minutes of grind, “Blue Litmus” slows to a sludgy crawl. Full of Hell would be right at home in the fast bands playing slowly camp that was covered here on the Toilet. Full of Hell are not new to slowing the pace, but like the grind component, the sludgy, slowing down feels more confident. Full of Hell are playing at the peak of their powers here. “Blue Litmus” ends with a drawn out bellow from Dylan Walker, and dissolved into feedback as the next track “Raise Three, Great Wall, Bloodied and Terrible” begins.
“Raise Thee…” introduces Full of Hell’s noise component as well as Merzbow’s hand prints on this album. “Raise Thee…” opens with harsh static and feedback, and slowly introduces cymbals as well as distant, tortured vocals. Full of Hell succeed here, too. This is the moment where you begin to sense Merzbow’s contributions this project, and it works. Grind and noise are not too dissimilar in that they both aim to alienate the listener and offend the senses. While “Raise Thee…” continues the slow progression of the album, this is not a respite. This movement reflects upon the album’s cover as well; disembodied limbs and eye being lost to the ether. “Thrum In The Deep” finds a balance between the grind and slow crawl already played on this record, moving at a consistent middle pace. “Shattered Knife” opens on an album highlight, threatening, angular guitar riffs that are repeated but twisted throughout what is essentially a track long breakdown. The album’s shortest track, “Mute”, at thirty three seconds, somehow manages to showcase grind and noise before the beginning of “High Fells”. This track alternates between Full of Hell’s sludgy crawl and noise until it reaches what becomes the album’s peak. At 3:26, a slow riff changes the tune of the track, saxophone-like-noise creeps in underneath, and vocals repeat like the chorus of angels engulfed in flame. “Ludjet Av Good”, the next track and Full of Hell & Merzbow’s longest, opens with on a whisper. As it builds, a slow drum march appears from the vacuum. Haunting electronic squeals appear with long, drawn out vocals that are barely audible. On the album’s last track, “Fawn Heads and Unjoy”, Full of Hell remind us they play grind over the last bit of noise and a brief horn.
This is likely Full of Hell’s best work to date, as time tends to reveal these matters to critics, fans, and listeners. What doesn’t work here? First, this album is too short. It clocks in at twenty three minutes. I should mention, before you rush to your keyboards with your magic fingers to proclaim “Edward you FVCKING POSER this is GRINDCORE, duh”, that yeah, I get it. It is a grindcore record, with a lot of sludgy tracks and noise excerpts woven into it. Full of Hell are doing all that they do at the peak of their abilities, but there isn’t enough of it here. I wanted to hear more of it. This thing could stand to be ten or fifteen minutes longer, easily, and still remain interesting. I’d like to hear more of Merzbow’s imprint on the record, hopefully they follow this up with a sequel collaboration. Another issue I noticed was the placement of the second to last track, “Ludjet Av Gud”. Upon my first listen I thought the album was over when it began. As a standalone track, it’s excellent. It, however, is the least abusive track on the record, and its placement leaves something to be desired as far as sequence is concerned. There is the last, fast, violent track on this album but as a whole the album feels lopsided. Again, this is likely Full of Hell’s best work, but this is not a perfect album and there is room for improvement.
What was all that jive about Black Flag in the beginning of this review? As stated, Black Flag pushed the boundaries of hardcore and expanded its sound. While Full of Hell will likely never attain the influential, legendary status of Black Flag (it’s a different era and there’s an oversaturation of the market), Full of Hell are pushing the boundaries of hardcore and successfully combining disparate genres in a genuine way. While some hardcore veterans are crafting nearly perfect comeback albums, Full of Hell are shaping the boundaries of hardcore and grindcore into something outside of genre norms entirely. Given their youth and productivity, I imagine we will see even more progress in the near future. This is the new punk rock.
Full of Hell & Merzbow is available digitally November 25th, 2014 from Profound Lore Records.
Photo/album cover via