Exploring Complexity With Full of Hell
Grindcore is pretty well-charted territory. Bands like Napalm Death and Brutal Truth laid the groundwork, set the blueprint in terms of extremity, pure velocity and style. For the last several decades, artists have taken that blueprint and added their own updates, pushing the genre into new territory. Periodically, a band comes along that is a true innovator. Electronics, programming and noise are not new concepts in grindcore — refer to the body of work of bands like Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Enter Full of Hell, formed in 2009 in the obscure environs of coastal Maryland. Starting as a more or less straightforward hardcore-based grind band, they have moved to the front of the line as innovators in their relatively young career.
Frontman Dylan Walker on recording: "I can’t wait to record another record. I’m really pumped about it used to be something I didn’t really understand or enjoy, but now it’s easily the best part of being in a band. You’re making something out of nothing."
I looked on a map and found Ocean City, MD. It doesn’t look like a place where a lot of music happens. How did the band form?
Spencer Hazard (guitarist): The band formed around the breakup of one of my old straight-edge metalcore bands. There isn't much extreme music coming from around here, so I was always more connected with the Delaware hardcore scene. All of the members from my old band were from various parts of Delaware, with the exception of me. There was tension between band members, so they split and the remaining members formed Full of Hell. Dave [Bland] started touring and jamming with us when he was 14 or 15 due to the fact he was one of the only kids that played drums around here. When he first joined the band, he wasn't too familiar with the style of music we were playing. I would send him playlists of hundreds and hundreds of bands to check and try to style his drums around. People are usually pretty confused when we tell them we are from Ocean City because of the fact people don't even realize people live around here year-round; musically, the only thing in our area is bar bands, reggae and whatever is popular in Alternative Press that month.
Dylan Walker (vocals): I lived in Bellefonte, PA, a similar area. The band was around for a few months before I joined. They recorded a few songs and did a little bit of touring right off the bat.
How did you meet Dylan?
SH: I knew Dylan from our older bands playing shows together. We first connected with Full of Hell when our old lineup toured with this band from PA that he played guitar in briefly. We started talking on the tour and realized we grew up listening to similar stuff and took influences from similar bands. So, once he found out our old singer had left, he was one of the first people to offer to do vocals for the band.
DW: When I joined, Spencer and I hit it off about grind and faster, weirder stuff, and he told me that he always wanted to be in a band that incorporated noise. All of our release had that idea. The demo 7" doesn’t have a whole lot of that. It was always in our minds.
What were some early influences on you playing? Were you in other bands before Full of Hell?
SH: When we started Full of Hell, we were taking influences from more groove-oriented bands like Entombed, Eyehategod, Crowbar and Slayer, while trying to mix it with more hardcore/melodic crust stuff like Integrity, Cursed and His Hero Is Gone. As the band went on, we started taking influence from more extreme and experimental bands like Man Is the Bastard, GASP, the Endless Blockade, Infest and Insect Warfare. As we progressed as a band, it wasn't stylistically where older members wanted the direction of the band to go, so they left. Most of the o.g. members of Full of Hell played in various hardcore and metalcore bands from around Delaware.
Did the typical grind fans embrace that aspect of the band at first?
DW: Everyone understood what we were going for. I don’t think the noise was really shocking to them, but I think they expected us to be better at it. It’s not a foreign idea; a lot of people know who Man Is the Bastard is or, like, the Endless Blockade. They’re not that much older than us; even though we’re close in age and they’re a pretty current band, they were influential to us. There was a bar set and initially people were like, “Eh, it’s okay.” We had to grow into it.
What was the experience like working with Merzbow? How did you meet Masami Akita (a.k.a. Merzbow)?
DW: We met this dude named Balázs Pándi when we played in Brooklyn with Phobia. Balázs was at the show and introduced himself. We didn’t know who he was at the time; he was just this really, really nice European dude who wanted us to mail him records. When we got home, we looked him up and discovered that he played with Merzbow, as well as Venetian Snares and all these Hungarian grindcore bands.
We kept in touch over email, and he told us that Masami really liked Full of Hell. Balazs thought it would be cool if we did a split, and he asked Masami about it. Masami suggested that we collaborate, as opposed to a split.
We did the project through file-sharing and there was almost no discussion; there was no guidance at all. At the time, we were really nervous because he was an idol of ours. Balázs communicated to us what Masami’s wishes for the release were, and essentially he wanted us to have free reign and do what we wanted.
We had this idea to create a double album because we really wanted a record that sounded like a grind metal record with Masami playing along as part of Full of Hell in our full spectrum of sound. We wanted to create a sister album where we were providing support for Masami’s soundscapes, so we went in and did two versions of the same album, like flip sides of coins.
SH: I would say it was intimidating, but rewarding. Intimidating in the [sense] that Masami is one of the most profound and respected noise artists in the entire world. Rewarding in the fact that he loved what we did with the collaboration, and it seemed to help us gain a new audience and opened us to so many different experiences that I thought we would never be a part of.
DW: In general, the response went over really well, but we got critiqued from certain people who heard one disc and didn’t hear the other one. Some of the criticisms were things that I couldn’t argue. If you are a fan of Merzbow and not necessarily a fan of Full of Hell, I can see being thrown off by the first disc, because Masami’s presence on the album wasn’t as great as it could have been. He is on a good portion of the record, but the sounds are blended really well. If you listen to the next disc the proportions are completely switched. That was kind of the idea. That was the critique, but I can’t argue with that.
That is such a subjective thing to criticize. You can’t really argue with a subjective point of view.
DW: I had to learn; it really sucked to have put so much love and effort into something and have someone tell you that you disgraced this or that you did a shitty job at this, but I realized that is a big part of being in a band.
We were hearing people say that we rode Merzbow’s coattails. The record did a lot for us; it was a great opportunity and Masami was really happy wit the way it came out. A lot of friends were very supportive of the release; a lot of people were very flattering. It was a nice experience overall, and I had to understand that the criticism was all part of it, and I’m going to have to deal with that from someone for everything I ever make.
It made me grow up a little. I still feel like I’m a little green with everything and that was a growing experience. It sounds like such a simple thing to say, but I don’t do this for any person at all. I do this for myself. I can’t not make music; it’s so fulfilling, so I’m going to keep doing it.
Comparing that to the collaboration with the Body, how do they differ and how are they the same?
DW: A lot of things were really different. From ground zero, creating a Body / Full of Hell collaboration was the opposite with respect to the sense of interaction. We spent a month on the road with them and then went into the studio and wrote the record from scratch. We were person-to-person right there talking about it the whole time. It was great, and we’re going to do another one because it went so well.
SH: We may have had some vague ideas for song structures, but there were no songs or riff ideas before we even went into the live room. We would basically be sitting in the control room with Lee [Buford] from the Body and suggest some sort of beat to create on his drum pad. Once we had that initial electronic beat, we would just throw out ideas and go record them to see if they would stick. After the basic song was put together, we would let the engineer Seth [Manchester] and Lee use their editing and studio magic to finish the songs.
DW: Because of everything that happened with the Merzbow collaboration, I felt way more relaxed when it was time to show everyone what we made. Because the Body had such and active hand in it, I didn’t feel as much pressure. I’m a huge fan of the Body, so I was watching one of my favorite bands creating a record, but I was also heavily involved with it.
I think everybody is really psyched about it. I know Chip [King] doesn’t listen to any records he makes, but I know he was psyched when we made it. They’re a unique group; I have a lot of admiration for them. As a fan before knowing them, I was really impressed with the way they did things, but after getting to know them, I think it’s increased. They’re real-lifers; their school is totally improvisation and they push out these records that are real deep-cut shit.
It was also exciting to be able to push them to things that they wouldn’t normally do, like a song that is tons of blasting, or like doing the Leonard Cohen cover “The Butcher.” At the time, I was listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, and every time "The Butcher" would come on, I would think that it was a Body song; it had the same spirit and it would be so cool to hear them cover it.
What about that particular track makes you think of the Body?
DW: It’s cold, it’s sad. Every verse is a sad little story. The first verse is about a butcher whose children turn their back on him because he butchers animals. The lyrics are pretty intense. The composition of the song is so simple, and I think that it’s a Body format.
Are their plans to take this on the road and perform the record as a single unit?
DW: Yes, we’re leaving this weekend. We’re going to meet them out west to rehearse, and then we’re going to play the record on tour. The tricky thing is that we wrote and recorded it in the studio; we’ve never actually played the songs. My band has been rehearsing a bunch and playing the songs without Chip and Lee, so when we get out there, it’s going to help a lot. When we get out there, Chip and Lee are going to join in. Their instrumentation is going to be a little different. I’m not sure if Chip is going to bring a guitar; he might play a synth. It basically sounds like a guitar; it has that low-end rumble that he makes. They don’t have to worry about providing basic drums or basic guitar; they can play on synths and rum pads. I think they are really into that.
How was your appearance at Roadburn this year?
DW: It was a real honor. I’ve wanted to play Roadburn since I first heard of it, but I never really thought we would. I don’t see a lot of punk, grindcore or death metal bands play the fest, but this year was a really mixed bill. We went to Europe with the Body, who have a really good agent over there, so he spoke with Walter [Hoeijmakers]. He had seen us play a festival a year before with Merzbow, so I think that gave him a different perspective on the band because we played an hour-long noise set. He was totally excited to have us. It’s the best-run festival that I’ve ever been to in my life. Walter runs such a big festival with all of these high-maintenance bands, a huge production, and yet he is always there if you need to talk to him. You can tell he’s a fan, and that he’s so pleased that his festival is happening. He remembered little things that we were excited about. He started talking to us about G.I.S.M., because he knew how excited we were to see them. We stayed an extra day to see them and drove 13 hours to our next show because we had to see G.I.S.M. They’ve never played outside of Japan before.
SH: I actually think it went surprisingly well. We were lucky because the lineup this year was one of the most diverse lineups I've seen for Roadburn. There was a wide mix of sludge, doom, punk, experimental and grindcore on this year’s bill. I think if we would have played any other year, we may have fallen flat on our faces. I've been pleased with all of the videos I've seen of our set and the general positive consensus of our performance.
Are you also working on new Full of Hell material?
SH: We want to take our time with this LP since we haven't released a true solo LP since 2013. We have eight complete songs, ideas for a song we want to improvise in the studio and two concepts for the last two songs. We want at least 11 songs on this record.
We are trying to make sure each song is unique, but also flows as a whole. I don't want a record with 11 random tracks that don't flow together. We have all actually been sitting down together and maybe taking two to three days to make sure the songs flow how we want them to flow. Of course, we have written a few songs that just seem to fall into place, but on some of the tracks we are really trying our hardest to make sure they don't drag. The material is a lot more technical and riff-oriented; there are still plenty of blast sections, just everything is more thought out. We have been taking a lot of influence from bands like Discordance Axis, Assück, Godflesh, Human Remains, Cryptopsy and Brutal Truth for this new material.
DW: It’s come full circle. We’ve all grown back to a lot of the older stuff we were into when we were in high school. Exploring more death metal has given us a chance to try out some slightly more complex compositions, more involved riffing, more complex vocal patterns. It’s pretty exciting. I feel like Spencer gets more inspired every year as things go on. I feel like his vision is finally coming to a head.