by Andy O'Connor
It’s strange to think that the collaboration between Maryland grindcore band Full of Hell and Japanese noise legend Merzbow had its roots in a t-shirt. In the design, Full of Hell appropriated the album art of Merzbow’s 1996 album Pulse Demon, a pulsing visual that works as a testament to the hypnotic waves of that collection. Depending on your opinion of Full of Hell, you’d either call it a tribute or a ripoff. Either way, rarely do shirts lead to actual collaboration, something that came about here when the band met Balázs Pándi—who’s served as Merzbow’s drummer as of late—while on tour in Europe.
Combining noise and metal is a worthwhile pursuit, with groups like Portland’s Knelt Rote and Toronto’s Column of Heaven synthesizing noise’s freer destruction with metal’s more structured attack. In fact, both genres seems to be reversing roles—many of the more critically acclaimed noise records, like Wolf Eyes’ 2004 breakout Burned Mind and Pharmakon’s Bestial Burden, are praised for incorporating structure, while the more extreme ends of black and death metal are rapidly becoming looser and more feral. (Impetuous Ritual’s Unholy Congregation Of Hypocritical Ambivalence, from earlier in the year, is a prime example.) Merzbow is no stranger to metal, having released several albums with Boris, contributed to two songs on Sunn O)))’s Flight of the Behemoth, and has cited death metal as influence on 1994’s Venereology, released through the since-shuttered Relapse sub-label Release Entertainment. This collaboration, however, is frustrating because it falls short of its goals, in part due to Merzbow’s too-reduced role and that Full of Hell don’t make up for the missing space.
"Burst Synapse" begins with a quick rush of powerviolence, an even quicker patch of Merzbow’s static, then continues to be dominated by Full of Hell’s rote playing. "Gordian Knot" and "Humming Miter" offend more in this matter, where Merzbow feels squandered. He doesn’t get to show any of his strengths. Full of Hell are one of those bands that can get people moshing in clubs, but can’t capture that intensity in the studio, and it’s more than obvious here. Merzbow isn’t quite able to bolster their riffs, unlike in Rock Dream, where he helps make Boris’ riffs grand and ecstatic. For his reputation as the antithesis of music, Merzbow has a strong command of rhythm, and if Full of Hell are gonna use Demon's art to gas up their van, they should have embraced that record’s dynamics, not simply its textures.
Some potential arises toward the album’s conclusion, where Merzbow begins to sync with Full of Hell. The blastbeats of "Mute" feel more unhinged thanks to his noise, for once, overcoming the guitar. "High Fells" sees Full of Hell dooming out, and in the process, giving Merzbow more room to cast a wide shadow. There’s even saxophone on here, and in closer "Fawn Heads and Unjoy", which is not only a nod to Merzbow’s love of free jazz, but also lends unpredictability. Full of Hell restrain themselves even more on "Ludjet Av Gud", dominated by booming floor toms and drifting noise undercurrents. (Some editions of the album come with Sister Fawn, a bonus disc of outtakes. They’re long jams of noise and drums, and even if they don’t form a cohesive whole, they’re a much more satisfying listen than the actual record.)
In the end here, Merzbow feels more like a over-hyped, under-trotted guest. It doesn’t even have the muster to serve as a compelling entryway for hardcore kids to get into noise. (As great as Demon and Venereology are, they may be a bit overwhelming for novices; Merzbow’s collaborations with Boris would be smoother introductions.) In an interview with the Quietus last year, Merzbow mentioned a forthcoming, more grindcore-oriented record called Merzgrind. Maybe there, we’ll find the emancipating fury that's lacking in this Full of Hell collaboration.