Review: Full Of Hell And Nothing ‘When No Birds Sang’

‘If we’re doing our job, it will freak you the fuck out in the best way, because you’re staring at the precipice of oblivion with us.’Dylan Walker, Full Of Hell.

Collaborations often throw out genre-bending ideas that can challenge the status quo, creating new ways of viewing the musical landscape and exciting fans of the artists. Of course, the concept is not new, and the results can vary wildly – for every Bloodmoon (Converge/Chelsea Wolfe) there’s a Lulu, for every Judgement Night soundtrack there’s Ozzy and Miss Piggy, you catch my drift.

Full Of Hell And Nothing 'When No Birds Sang' Artwork
Full Of Hell And Nothing ‘When No Birds Sang’ Artwork

The motivation behind all of them (ignoring cynical cash grabs) is often for diametrically opposed artists to work together to blend their respective skills and create a piece of art that steps out of their comfort zones, offering fans the chance of something to challenge and expand their musical convictions.

With this motivation in mind Maryland noise/grind merchants Full Of Hell, already no strangers to the art of collaboration having worked with Japanese noise artist Merzbow, sludge fanatics The Body and doom masters Primitive Man, looked to create something new and beyond previous conventions with fellow Relapse Records label mates, shoegaze artists Nothing.

Having shared festival bills and friendships for over a decade, the two frontmen, Dylan Walker and Domenic ‘Nicky’ Palermo’s correspondence blossomed into a natural desire to work together and combine the harsh and abstract as well as the soulful ambience to bridge the gap between the two extremes.

Enlisting Grammy Award-nominated producer Will Putney, this union of minds was an atmospheric, in-person affair with the writing being done in a jam room rather than ideas sent back and forth over the internet. This undoubtedly contributed to the vibe and chemistry that was built on mutual respect from all parties, including Putney whose guidance in the studio also enhanced the experience.

Out of those sessions has emerged the six-track When No Birds Sang which pours the essence of both bands into each moment, drawing influence from the likes of Swans and My Bloody Valentine to build a new wall of sound that looks to excite and emotionally scar the listener.

The tender-sounding title of Rose Tinted World immediately sets out to make their promise come true. Visceral, lurching and savage, the track is a tangle of staccato rhythmic stabs, throat-searing vocals screams and growls that writhe and twist. This stop/start cadence introduces droning riffing, jarring feedback and discordant melodic strums which hang in the air next to each other in a discombobulating manner.

Deliberately clashing moments against each other, there is a subtle progression to the track, which emerges once the initial shock of its impact dissipates. Through this hail of sensory overload, there comes a sampled news report and as the piece continues, more and more join the throng until the climax is almost drowned out in a babble of voices that mimic the sense of overwhelm. Whether this can be taken as a comment on the invasion of technology into our lives and our inability to disengage is anyone’s guess, although based on the previous moments they could just be trying to fuck with you.

When they combine their contrasting styles, the effect is simply stunning…

By contrast, the beginning of Like Stars In The Firmament very much feels like Nothing. The gentle, rich, shimmering guitars offer a peaceful juxtaposition to the chaotic snarl of the opening track and the dreamy, ethereal vocals are soothing and tender. The slow, meandering guitar conjures a sense of floating and works to form the extreme peaks and valleys the two bands aimed for, the ugly versus the beautiful.

The deep pulsing bass, enhanced by the growing synth swells, ushers in the start off Forever Well and builds into a powerful combination that verges into blackgaze territory and continues the haunting, mellow string bends and savagery of the previous two tracks. In the PR blurb, Dylan said that Nothing put a foundation down and Full Of Hell put a house over it’.

That house is the dramatic breakout towards the end of the track when the atmosphere gets heavy and the tortured howls spit their anguished cries.

Wild Blue starts off almost silently before the ambient, floating strains emerge with a calm and stillness that once more contrasts with the harsher tones. This peaceful, drifting instrument has glimpses of additional sounds that surface just long enough to be heard, but fade before you can really grasp them. It washes over serenely like the lapping of waves before receding once more before the title track continues this mellow vibe.

Featuring choral effects flavoured vocals, the title track, When No Birds Sang, feels warm and gentle, despite the sparse instrumentalisation. As it progresses, there is a sweeping sense of hope in the despair that surrounds it, and a muted rhythm beats behind the swirling sounds as it grows in power like a tiny bird taking flight. Stripped back and beautiful in its simplicity, the track covers you in a tender embrace.

The scratching discordant sounds of Spend The Grace promptly banish that feeling. The final entry in this emotive, eclectic ensemble is as unsettling and downbeat as the more extremes of the album. Still, here the nagging sounds and whispered vocals mutate into a slow and deliberate doomgaze plodding crescendo. Vocals moan in a soft lament whilst the harsher screams articulate frustration and hopelessness striking a dichotomy between the two personalities of the collaboration, making the album worth it for this alone.

When No Birds Sang is going to be a difficult album for some to listen to, as it works in a complex orchestral composition style of movements, the juxtaposition of the two polar opposites may be too off-putting for them. When they combine their contrasting styles, the effect is simply stunning, but it marks it out as no mere casual listen. It is certainly interesting, brave and thought provoking.

Label: Closed Casket Activities
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden