Over the years, East Coast collective Full Of Hell have mastered the art of extremity. What started as a particularly harrowing form of metallic hardcore has become a unique, massive beast. Grind, death, hardcore, noise, jazz, ambient, dub, and industrial all coalesce into the band’s latest and greatest statement of intent: Garden of Burning Apparitions, out now via Relapse Records. Few bands find ways to take a lovely message and make it as beautifully ugly as this, but much of the record’s themes can be summed up fairly succinctly: have empathy for those around you and try to be less of an asshole.
Sure, much of the record still sounds like Beelzebub’s angels trumpeting the ecstatic apocalypse (or humans screaming into that newly formed void), but Full Of Hell have always been much more interested in making the natural world better. Recent releases have seen a visual emphasis on religious iconography—and Garden of Burning Apparitions fits that bill tremendously. Vocalist Dylan Walker is not a traditionally religious man, but his journey has taken him to surprising places:
“I didn’t grow up religious at all. I was a pretty confirmed atheist all my life, and I’m not now. I’m not anything now, as I get older. I think with the band, I always felt like it was best if I was going to write, to be honest. And so, it’s always been my journey as a human being, trying to figure out what the fuck anything means. Because everything kind of feels kind of meaningless a lot of the times. It’s really hard to know what’s up, what’s down. Why is morality even a thing? If nothing fucking matters, what is this? So, it’s always just kind of been like my journey.”
“With the newest one,” he adds, “it’s just been a couple years of … I’m married. I got a place to live. I really love my life. I feel so blessed, but at the same time, I’m having a crisis with my purpose and scaring the shit out of myself thinking too deeply on my impermanence, and how I really can’t even fathom how I could exist beyond this little blip in time. And it’s a blessing. It’s a great thing that I exist for this minuscule grain of sand in time, or whatever, whatever it means. But I’m afraid of not existing. I’m afraid of just disappearing. I don’t know.”
“They’re super common fears to have,” Walker expands, “but maybe that would resonate with people for that reason, but I guess I’m having almost pre-mid-life crisis feelings about my own mortality and who I am, and examining my God hole. Because I’ve heard people reference it as a God hole. That’s why addicts, they can sometimes divert their energies into spirituality and faith, and that’s kind of that invisible hand on their shoulder that helps them have strength to keep pushing on every day.
“And I think that if we are without that spirituality, for some people, I feel like it kind of does leave this weird hole sometimes. And I’m just kind of looking at that. I haven’t filled it or anything, but I’m just kind of … I don’t know. Trying to maybe have a more open mind as I get older. It’s kind of bleak.”
We’re all seeking that warm, comforting hand on our shoulder that says, “It’s all going to be okay.” A lot of this soul searching is common for those of us in our late 20s or older, who came of age during the horrors and after-effects of 9/11, who tried to get jobs and homes after the economic/housing crash, and who see the bleak future staring down at us. Now, we’re dealing with a system that we realize is keeping our fellow humans down and oppressed because of the color of their skin or because they are LGBTQ. It’s a recipe for introspection.
Walker agrees: “A lot of this wraps around for me to this: I have this weird feeling of undeserving all the time, like imposter syndrome. And I also fucking absolutely cringe and die inside when I meet artists or whatever that have big egos, and so, I’ve just been perpetually afraid of coming off like that since I was 16 years old in my first band. I was just disgusted by people like that.
“So, I also have this part where I’m really open to these defeated feelings because I think it’s important to kind of grind yourself down a little bit. Not to some death spiral or something, but I think there’s an element of our band, especially, because my partner in the band, [guitarist] Spencer [Hazard], he’s kind of unintentionally much more pessimistic as a human being. He tends to worry more about these things, and kind of see it half empty sometimes, and I have to live half full. But he gives me some true balance. And I think it’s really important as a band, especially, on the timescale that you’re looking at your stupid band; it’s important to have that balance.”
“The older I get, and the more society shifts, I’m just like, ‘Holy shit. Yeah. I’m living, like, the most fucking privileged life I possibly could,’ and I’m recognizing, coming to terms with that. I don’t know. It changes your view on things. It’s important though. Recognizing our privilege is a good thing. That’s an awakening.”
That all comes to this notion that to grow, you have to keep pushing yourself, keep finding the uncomfortable and learning from it. Full Of Hell have clearly grown from an excellent metallic hardcore band into one of the premiere heavy bands in the world. Has the band’s growth changed how Walker views his role in the band or changed his creative outlook and output?
“I want to say it hasn’t changed, but I would say any little detail that comes into your periphery affects your performance one way or another. When we did that Merzbow collaboration. That was a fucking unbelievable, ‘I can’t believe we get to do this,’ kind of thing. And when it was coming out, everybody was super stoked on it, and then I started to notice that we were in our own little pocket, A389 Records.
“We had all of our buds from this little crowd of people that liked us and understood us, but now, because we did this thing with Merzbow, the actual noise scene is seeing our band for the first time, and they think we fucking suck. And we’d never done a collaboration before, and we never planned to do one, we never asked to do one.”
“We asked Masami [Akita] to do a split first, and Masami was like, ‘No, let’s do a collab. It’s better. Just do a collab.’ And then we were just kind of on our own, and we were learning, and it put us under this magnifying glass, and it hurt our feelings because people were like, ‘You guys fucking suck.’ We got a really terrible Pitchfork review [laughs]. But it’s important because, yeah, it bruises your ego or whatever, but I think being under that magnifying glass is good sometimes too because it keeps the edge sharp, and you’re like, ‘I can do better than this.’”
“So, I think it’s important. It sucks, though. We don’t make music for other people, really, to be honest. If we wanted to make music for other people, and the idea was to impress an audience and to grow an audience size; we wouldn’t play the kind of music we play, you know? We’d play something maybe more appealing, if that’s all we cared about. So, at the end of the day, nothing drastic changes. Everything influences. You’d be a fucking fool to play this kind of music and be concerned about what others are thinking of it because it appeals to such a small sliver of society at large.”
To Walker’s point, all the work Full Of Hell put into their collaborative albums with The Body and Merzbow have clearly seeped into the band’s gloriously toxic stew of influences, creating a very loud and noisy record. There are parts of the record that sound like the band stuffed everything they could into a Full Of Hell whoopee cushion, and your speakers are slowly releasing every ounce of that amazing air slowly. It’s a beautiful whoopee cushion. That emphasis on letting their individual interests fit into Full Of Hell’s musical extremity is the engine that keeps the band running:
“Spencer’s been on a huge noise rock kick lately, and I can’t stop listening to Tony Molina. Some of the guys have been really into jazz lately, and all of us are obsessed with dub. The Body definitely opened my heart to programmed drums. I mean, I liked ambient music, and I like certain styles of electronic music, but now I’m pretty consumed by it. I really enjoy it. And I think [the musical diversity] keeps our writing process fresh, too. But I think the branching out is good for us. It keeps it fresh when we come back to Full of Hell stuff because we want Full of Hell to be extreme, always. Because that’s just the most fun to play.”
It’s never one person’s visions, and I think that’s the story of the band. Full Of Hell became Full Of Hell after their collaborative albums. They almost needed other people to push their extremity further. Walker agrees:
“That wasn’t intentional. We grew into that. [Working on those albums] was a total gift to our lives in general. I’m really proud, every day, of how I feel like we’re part of a really cool community of bands, and it fosters creativity. It fosters a good code of ethics, I guess, too? It’s not cool to make money choices instead of choices that are good for your art or good for your friends. Those guys reinforced all these ideas that I had gestating in my head that were not real ideas yet. It was a huge deal for us. The collectiveness is everything, I think. Even though this one’s has almost got nobody on it.”
Walker stole my joke before I could get it out. The story of Full of Hell is this: If you’re in hell, you need friends; you need other people. That ethos to kindness, friendship, and empathy. If you’re in hell, create your own heaven, right?
“I think thematically,” Walker concurs. “I think it’s definitely a lament of the lack of empathy in humanity, but definitely, on a personal level as a human being, I definitely believe in that connectivity. It’s important.”
One of those friends who has become an integral part of the Full Of Hell artistic vision is Mark McCoy. His artwork has been the visual representation of Walker’s lyrics since 2017’s breakout record, Trumpeting Ecstasy. His ability to transform religious iconography into existential nightmares perfectly captures the band’s ethos in black and white. I asked Walker what the relationship means to him; he was effusive in his praise:
“[McCoy] has this hardcore label, Youth Attack, where the presentation is so fucking flawless with every piece of thing he puts out. And then, his art too, just takes off into this cinematic, insanely dark, beautiful, mysterious, paranormal-looking artwork. And it’s like, he inspired me, and then we got going, and it’s this weird, back-and-forth relationship in terms of Full of Hell specifically, where my lyrics, I’ll give them to him, and they’ll inspire imagery for him, and his imagery will then pivot me in a way where I’m like, ‘Oh, man. This is this record. This is what this is really about.’”
“It’s so weird,” he continues. “I can’t even explain … it’s pure. I can’t explain where the themes really crystallize, and it wouldn’t happen with just me, which is the cool part. It’s pretty amazing. And I didn’t even know who Full of Hell was, really, as a band until we got the Trumpeting art. Because when I saw that cover at first, I was like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ because I thought I was feeding into that stupid 666 imagery shit, which we don’t give a fuck about. You know, having a burning nun’s head? But it was more nuanced than I was thinking. And obviously, in 10 to 30 seconds, I was like, ‘Oh, wait. Nah. This is pretty insane. We need to keep this.’ But those were his interpretations of my lyrics.”
“For this record, I had a dream of this album cover, so he was interpreting imagery that I gave him for the first time. But generally, I don’t fucking know what the records are going to look like, and I’m really nervous until he sends me the art. I know he’s going to kill it, but you never know for sure. And there’s no, ‘Make it again,’ because it takes months for him to collage this stuff together.”
This drives home the point that art is collective, always?
“Oh, yeah,” Walker responds.
Watch the video for “Reeking Tunnels” here:
Photos courtesy of Full Of Hell and Zachary Harrell Jones