Few bands have captured my attention in 2014 quite like Full of Hell. I had the pleasure of witnessing the quartet’s devastating, show-stealing live set back in August and was blown away by their combination of relentless intensity and determination to push the envelope of grind/hardcore deep into the realms of harsh noise. It was like someone had thrown Jane Doe-era Converge in a blender with Release Records-era Merzbow and set that motherfucker to liquefy; easily one of the most simultaneously challenging and exhilarating live experiences ever. Needless to say, when I caught wind of the announcement that they had signed a deal with Profound Lore and their debut for the venerable label would be a collaboration with the aforementioned Japanese God of Noise himself, anticipation was through the roof and then some.
Spread out over two discs and clocking in around an hour, Full of Hell & Merzbow works as a collaboration because it gives both entities space to do what they do best. While it might seem strange to divide up an hour’s worth of material in such a manner, there is good reason; the first disc is dominated by Full of Hell’s blistering hardcore with Merzbow’s scathing distortion acting as the underlying glue that holds everything together, while the second disc, titled Sister Fawn, sees Merzbow taking over the reins to create punishing, quasi-industrial noisescapes.
Full of Hell’s intensity and volatility are a good fit for Merzbow; in much the same way that that his barrage of white-hot metal-on-metal scrapes and screeches threaten to rage out of control, so too does the band’s pummeling hardcore/grind attack often appear to be on the verge of nuclear meltdown. Yet both hold up their respective ends of the bargain, working in tandem to batter the listener into total submission and beyond. Together they cover a ton of sonic territory ranging from death metal to death industrial, but the album sounds cohesive and focused, no doubt thanks to Full of Hell’s previous harsh noise explorations preparing them to work effectively with the forty-five minute slab of noise Merzbow gave them to use for the album.
Indeed, the truly beautiful thing about Full of Hell & Merzbow is that it travels down so many different roads of aural abuse, like being strapped to a gurney in some dank torture chamber, at the mercy of someone who knows a thousand different ways to make you suffer. The approaches may vary, but the end results is always the same: agonizing pain. Full of Hell bring dynamics to the table that make the album far more listenable than some of Merzbow’s willfully monotonous harsh noise endurance tests, but it is nonetheless a thoroughly draining experience.
Full of Hell and Merzbow is both a huge step forward in Full of Hell’s evolution and the most compelling thing Profound Lore has released in ages. It’s a joy to witness a celebrated extreme music veteran such as Merzbow collaborating with an up-and-coming band, especially when the results are this stunning, and one can only hope that Full of Hell’s stock will continue to rise as a result. In the meantime, they’ve given us a late contender for album of the year.