Full of Hell write with pain in mind. The Maryland noise-metal mutants have made that much clear across a decade of static-scarred punk, released by labels like Profound Lore, Relapse, and Neurot. Records like Rudiments of Mutilation bludgeon traditional heavy music tropes, grinding familiar sounds from the history of hardcore, death metal, and even more extreme realms into ugly and unsettling shapes. This approach extends to their subject matter, too: over the scraping noise, they scream about the burden of existence, the violence of the world, and the inevitable failure of the flesh.
It’s bleak, but according to vocalist Dylan Walker, that’s the point. In 2013, he told Terrorizer that “Throbbing Lung Fiber”—a particularly unsettling track that describes a family burning to death in their own home—was meant to rattle listeners. “The descriptions in the lyrics about bones snapping in the heat and the smell of burning hair are about just that,” he said. “No message, just meaningless pain.”
In the years since, they’ve lived up to the weightiness of that statement, releasing four studio albums that blur the jagged edges between noise, hardcore, and metal to push the limits of abjection. They’ve occasionally joined forces with other like-minded masochists, collaborating with fellow aggro auteurs like the Body and Merzbow, as well as releasing splits with Code Orange. But each passing record has revealed new dimensions to their sound—adding field recordings and samples and further scouring their riffs with static—which has resulted in the band becoming one of the most menacing heavy bands working.
With each new Full of Hell record comes the tacit agreement to give yourself over to the cacophony. There’s no escape from the agony—an appropriate soundtrack for the decade in which they’ve worked. In this overwhelming world, with its unrelenting pain, their music functions as a mirror; each scream is a reminder that you’re not suffering alone.
Full of Hell’s first full-length record opens with a minute of feedback, swirling menacingly; a statement of intent from a band that has always held noise close to their heart. While that song, “Pile of Dead Horses,” ultimately swells into a curdled sigh of grindcore rage, the noise sets the tone for the whole record—and ultimately, their whole career. Static, dissonance, and existential confusion follow over the ensuing 10 tracks. Even though it’s their debut, their approach is already well-defined: Nothing comes easy, the pain is the point.
Hindsight lends an interesting contrast to this early split from two groups of young punk experimenters. Code Orange Kids would eventually change their name, brighten their sound, and wear ski masks on the Grammys red carpet. Full of Hell, of course, has spent their career staring even more deeply into the void—a trajectory you could probably guess from their two tracks here. The gnarled, slow-motion chords that open the track give way to dead-eyed screeching about dying love and the passage of time. It’s heavy stuff, from a band that’d only continue to get heavier.
Psychic and physical agony is the explicit focus of the group’s sophomore LP for Baltimore’s A389 Recordings. “Rudiments of Mutilation refers to our innate and basic need to suffer and cause suffering,” vocalist Dylan Walker told Terrorizer in 2013. “I was able to draw equally from the first-hand experience of pain in my own life and the ugliness that is the greater human pulse.” This intensity is clear from the record’s opening track “Dichotomy,” on which the group unravels spiderwebs of static and clattering percussion as Walker offers screaming lamentations about empathy, guilt, and the march of time. From there, they branch out into more experimental realms (like the menacing murmurs of “Embrace”) and more punishing ones (the brutal gallop of “Bone Coral and Brine”), each track adding new dimensions to their ache.
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Full of Hell’s collaborations with Japanese noise icon Merzbow happened by accident. A mutual friend thought their musical sensibilities—a shared affection for bleakness and extremity—aligned and proposed a meeting of the minds. Good thing he did—their full-length Full of Hell & Merzbow marked a new highpoint of intensity and tumult for the group. They’d always filled the margins of their songs with screaming and static, but on this record they allow Merzbow to scribble in all the available space—rendering their riffs all the more upsetting and otherworldly.
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Trumpeting Ecstasy opens with a sample from Werner Herzog’s Burden of Dreams (1982), a documentary about the trying process of making his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo in the Peruvian jungle. “Nature here is vile and base,” Herzog says. “Of course, there’s a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us.” It’s hard to think of a more fitting quote to open a record by Full of Hell, a band who’ve dedicated their whole careers to exploring the mire of that misery. Trumpeting Ecstasy is no exception, further exploring the in-between spaces between shattered noise, gory grindcore, and other stomach-churning sounds. It’s a more straightforwardly heavy record than the ones that bookend it—less electronics, more jagged riffs—but it’s no less unsettling. These are songs that are meant to shake you to your core, and they do.
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Trauma and tragedy on a personal and global scale informed 2017’s Trumpeting Ecstasy, and, per Walker, this record is a response to that period. “We started this band to make music that’s really cathartic and helps us cope with all our personal problems,” he told Bandcamp Daily in 2019. Grief, emptiness, and anhedonia are soundtracked by some of the group’s most adventurous and unnerving riffs in their whole catalog. Aided by fellow noise torturer Lingua Ignota, as well as members of Insect Warfare and Charles Bronson, the record features outré explorations like “Angels Gather Here,” a noise-sludge track about cosmic violence and unending horror. Even by their standards, they sounded like they were pushing themselves—proof of the cathartic power of collaboration.
As its title suggests, this 2020 release is the fifth entry in a long-running series of pure noise excursions by the band. Unlike their mainline records, the FOH NOISE releases allow the group to explore the power of static, distortion, and feedback unrestrained. Unlike proper Full of Hell records, which comfort fans with familiar songwriting structures (no matter how abstract), these are unrelenting chaos and torment—the sort of music that’s unafraid to stare directly into the void, probing the darkness for answers. VOL 5 is full of some of the group’s most layered and textured noise experiments yet, and some of the most bleak-sounding.
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Every Full of Hell album feels like approaching a summit. Gasping for air after a brutal journey, you wonder, for a beautiful moment, if they could ever surpass the heaviness you just endured. And somehow, every time they emerge with records like Garden of Burning Apparitions, another unfathomably harsh journey through the outer realms of metal, industrial music, and hardcore. Tracks like “Industrial Messiah Complex” explore familiar themes—Walker says it’s about feeling like “humanity is raked over the coals and bled out until there’s nothing left”—but their intensity, somehow, feels new, the cranium-caving riffs coated in even more static and noise. It’s proof that a decade on, they’re still pushing themselves, both as songwriters and as people in pursuit of pain