Grindcore is a hell of a thing. I understand the need for it—earnest communication in the form of anything other than blood curdled screams in these truncated days seems more than a little ambitious—but I’ve never latched onto the method itself. If hardcore’s purpose was to bring a pummeling sense of stabilization to the nihilism of punk, then what’s the role of grindcore? To tear it all back down again? Is it atavism, reversion to the punks of yesteryear, only this time with more neutered shrieks to better resonate with the postmodern cacophony? And is there a way to do that that doesn’t sound so immensely…boring?
So, yes, a minor degree of bias here regarding Full of Hell and Merzbow’s self-titled collaboration. Grindcore, with its adherence to near formlessness through thirty second bursts of maniacal guitar work and yelping, is something that requires an extra bit of creative exertion to elevate it above just being another quick, loud record. Across bands and albums, it’s a formula that’s endlessly re-creatable, endlessly permutable—difference exist, but they remain elusive and maybe even baffling to anyone other than the most-diehards. That’s exactly what goes wrong with the collaboration; there’s just simply very little to set it aside from the rest of the whole writhing mess.
The promise of noise maestro Merzbow especially looms heavy over the record. He’s Full of Hell & Merzbow’s Godot; right there in the title, but nearly vacant from the notes. “Burst Synapse” opens with an intriguing invocation as, after an immediate 2 seconds of screaming and shredding, the mess collapses in on itself for a few seconds over tape-hiss and undulating guitar feedback. It doesn’t stick though, and soon the record reverts back to its primal impulses.
When Merzbow does show up to salvage the record, however, he does so with incredible panache. His dominant tracks are all the highlights of an otherwise indiscernible mire; “Raise Thee, Great Wall, Bloody and Terrible” is exactly as monolithic at its title suggests; the deflating trumpets that fight against the looming noise of “High Falls” are disorienting in all the right ways; and the bubbling menace of patient, hungry drums that underscore the creeping menace “Ludjet av Gud” complete the song. Likewise, the dizzy brass that sputters for a few seconds over the ending cacophony of “Fawn Heads and Unjoy” hints at some untapped potential behind a full on artistic interaction between the rotting corpse of grindcore and the ever mutating ocean of noise. Unfortunately, Full of Hell & Merzbow doesn’t find some new terrible beast slouching in its combination. We can smell its stink, wafting through the tracks, but nothing ever emerges from the swamp.
Chaotic. Intense. Harsh. Dissonant. These are just some common adjectives that can be used to describe genres like death metal, grindcore, and noise. So, what would happen if all these genres mixed? This new Full of Hell and Merzbow collaboration promises to show us just that.
The very first seconds of this record smack you in the face as you are introduced to a high pitched scream, some tremolo guitars and blast beats, and then some feedback noise. These 10 seconds really lay the ground work for what awaits in Full of Hell & Merzbow. Though this is a collaboration, this feels more like a Full of Hell album with some support from Merbow.
Most of the tracks here are very quick and visceral, almost never making it past the 1 minute mark. Surprisingly, packed in these tracks are some very memorable moments. Full of Hell somehow manages to fit in climaxes and very catchy riffs (if you can pick them out amongst the chaos). The band even pulls some tricks out their sleeves. The slow, doomy track “High Fells” shows that the band can do more than just play really fast, and the addition of some subtle clean vocals and horns towards the end of the album gives Full of Hell breadth.
So, you may be asking where Merzbow fits in with this album. Well, as I stated before, he is more the support, as in he supports with harsh noises to make what Full of Hell is playing even crazier. These additions can be hard to pick out on first listen, but they make nice little treasures to find and increase the overall greatness of this collaboration. In addition to these little snippets of noise, there are some tracks that are almost exclusively made by Merzbow. These, to me, make very nice little breaks (even if there are only 2) from the beat down Full of Hell brings. Merzbow still makes noise music though, so these breaks are almost as disorienting as the Full of Hell tracks themselves.
In the end, this collaboration is a perfect mix of noise and metal. Sure, Merzbow may be slightly underwhelming to some, but he adds so much to Full of Hell’s very tight metal/grindcore performance. The album may be very short, but packed in that 24 minutes is a very well crafted piece that keeps you eagerly waiting what happens next.