Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Full Of Hell & Nothing When No Birds Sang

Closed Casket Activities
Closed Casket Activities

“We’re bringing you to this edge of an empty void… you’re staring at the precipice of oblivion with us.”

This quote comes from Dylan Walker, frontman of grindcore outfit Full Of Hell, about When No Birds Sang, their new collaborative album with shoegaze band Nothing’s Domenic Palermo and Doyle Martin. In the past, they’ve played alongside each other and designed shared merch (“Full Of Nothing” T-shirts were evidence that the crossover was effortlessly profound). Full Of Hell, with unrelenting uproars balled into deafening spurts, test what a person can handle by embodying horror, while Nothing pique someone’s interest in the unsettling with eerie, reverb-drenched meanderings. Full Of Hell provide an overload; Nothing offer only a teasing glimpse. Despite their different sounds, they are bridged by existential terror.

On When No Birds Sang, Nothing and Full Of Hell meet in the perfect middle. The result is as colossal and evocative as Deafheaven’s Sunbather while also proving there’s more than one way to combine shoegaze and extreme metal. The album feels split up into acts or movements (the vinyl lists side A as North and side B as South), a division encapsulated by the triptych on the cover, depicting a cloud in a blue sky. The six songs range from four to eight minutes, a world of flux contained within each. The patient flow of the music lends it a classical texture; the record plays like a sweeping, sinister symphony, with the focus placed on the mood and atmosphere above all else. “Forever Well” is pushed forward by floating synthesizers like wisps of smoke, before, two-thirds of the way through, it explodes into a wall of Walker’s growls harmonized with emotive exhales from Palermo and Martin. On “Wild Blue,” the ethereal sonic palette never ignites into ruthless metal; it remains ambient, an unexpected move from both groups. Together, they are unrecognizable, forming a whole new beast, ferocious and fascinating.

The unspoken goal of all art is to capture a glimmer of beauty. Even when an artist sets out to make something ugly and grotesque, the real aspiration is to reveal the unexpected allure in what also evokes disgust. When No Birds Sang sees Nothing and Full Of Hell experimenting with this task in new, purer ways. The title can be interpreted as a sort of thesis statement. The phrase invokes quietness as a sort of death.

The album is loosely based on The Falling Man, the famous Richard Drew photograph of a man plummeting from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Because of the angle, his body, suspended upside down, is aligned with the edge where the North and South Towers meet, a bizarrely perfect geometry. One of the most disturbing aspects of the piece is the straightness of his figure, the lack of visible struggle, the silent acceptance of violently falling to one’s death. “You could always hear them hitting the ground, like a sack of cement, a big thud,” Drew said about the people jumping from the buildings. “In some ways, it might just be the last element of control that you have,” Jack Gentul said about his late wife Alayne in the Falling Man documentary. “Everything around you is happening and you can’t stop it, but this is something that you can do. And to be out of the smoke and the heat, and to be out in the air, it must have felt like flying.”

Opening track “Rose Tinted World” blares with the severity of an ending, conveying that same sense of blazing annihilation via scorching guitars and Walker’s harrowing barks. The song has Full Of Hell’s usual intensity, but this time it’s as bleak and contained as it is blistering. “Fate is just a rose tinted word/ For a world without reason,” Walkers screams unintelligibly.

The following track, “Like Stars In The Firmament,” drifts, drowsy and wavering, encompassing the white light that comes before death. Nothing’s music has always felt post-apocalyptic. It sifts through the aftermath — wreckage, grey skies, and numbness to tragedy — but this is darker, bigger. “The flames of hell have reached the heavens/ They’re singing through the floors/ I don’t want to die/ I don’t want to die,” Palermo sighs against meandering guitars. When No Birds Sang exists in this limbo; it is the closest both bands have gotten to death, to the very end of everything.

The Falling Man was a controversial piece, prompting reactions of horror and aversion when printed on the back of a newspaper. Following the unrest, it disappeared and was replaced with pictures of firefighters persisting through rubble, symbols of hope and heroism. The Falling Man provided an unthinkably dismal perspective into one’s proximity to imminent obliteration. Even as the footage of the towers falling streamed on live television, the people jumping were not shown, nor were they classified by the New York City medical examiner’s office as “jumpers” since they were forced out by the conditions. Though jumping had been the only way for the victims to have agency, their agency was stripped in the end, because agency in one’s own death is a terrifying idea; it is too dangerous of a responsibility for an individual to bear.

Palermo’s ghostly vocals swirl on “When No Birds Sang,” an immersive sprawl of slowcore, untethered and aimless, until halfway through, heavy, reverberating guitars and crashing drums transform the song into a strong, hazy whirlwind. “Tell me tell me/ Will you still enjoy the view/ Through the smoke into the blue,” he whispers hauntingly.

Finale “Spend The Grace” returns to the unbridled fury of “Rose Tinted World,” so that the beginning and the end of the album serve as inverted versions of one another. Ominous synthesizers speckle the introduction of “Spend The Grace” with the off-kilter cadence of a cursed bird call. Piece by piece, evil seeps in, first a caustic riff vibrating with a sense of warning, followed by a slow blast of black metal that continues to unfurl gradually, each building note leading to Walker’s animalistic howls, expressing a singular kind of malevolence. Even when it feels like it can’t get any louder, a key change imbues the song with diabolic depths. It is at once terrifying and breathtaking.

Like The Falling Man, When No Birds Sang molds tragedy into devastating beauty. It stares mortality in the face, while at the same time transcending it — an endless fall into the unknown.

When No Birds Sang is out 12/1 via Closed Casket Activities.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Peter Gabriel’s i/o
• Gabby’s World’s GABBY SWORD
• Panopticon’s The Rime Of Memory
• Harp’s Albion
• Trevor Horn’s Echoes: Ancient & Modern
• Jonathan Rado’s For Who The Bell Tolls For
• House Of Harm’s Playground
• Clark’s Cave Dog
• Dillon Francis’ This Mixtape Is Fire Too
• Arone Dyer & s t a r g a z e’s ARONE x S T A R G A Z E
• Thy Slaughter’s Soft Rock
• Dowsing’s No One Said This Would Be Easy
• Dove Cameron’s Alchemical: Volume 1
• Codeseven’s Go Let It In
• The compilation Moping In Style: A Tribute To Adam Green
• The compilation Dan Sartain Vs. The World (is gonna break your little heart)
• The Philadelphia Eagles’ second holiday album A Philly Special Christmas Special
• Isaiah J. Thompson’s A Guaraldi Holiday
• Khruangbin’s Live At Sydney Opera House
• Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound Of Music Deluxe Edition
• Get Wrong’s Get Wrong EP
• Atmosphere’s Talk Talk EP
• Minor Threat’s Out Of Step Outtakes EP
• Kee Avil’s Crease Remixed EP
• Unflirt’s April’s Nectar EP
• Sophie Meiers’ crawl__space EP

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