This is the second collaborative album from Rhode Island Sludge duo, The Body and Maryland’s Powerviolence grinders Full of Hell.
How do you approach this album as a reviewer or listener? Do you compare it with previous albums by The Body? Or Full of Hell? I forget where the review was published but a previous collaborative album from Full of Hell, this time along with Japanese noise god Merzbow was slated, as they felt the album failed to represent much contribution from Merzbow. I thought they missed the point entirely. There is only one question worth asking when reviewing an album, collaboration or not, that being, “Is the album any good?” and for a bonus second question, “Why?”
In 2016, the two bands released their first collaboration album together, entitled “One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache”. The album has a very organic feel that seems to utilise all of the instrumentation usually offered by the two bands but effortlessly creating a new entity, not simply two bands stuck together. It’s proved to be a grower for me over the past few months where I’m discovering something new within the detail each time I listen. It also includes a Leonard Cohen cover that works brilliantly. This album serves as the only valid reference for anyone when listening to this new album.
I stayed up for this new album’s release. As the clock turned from 23:59 to 00:00 I opened Spotify, searched and nothing was there, much to my dismay. I gave it another couple of minutes. Nothing. Resigned to having to wait another sleep to hear it I gave Spotify one last chance, 12:05am was the time and there it was, finally. I’ve never made so many notes on a first listen before. One thing to point out which is instantly recognisable upon listening is the fact that it sounds almost nothing like their first album, in any way, apart from the distinctive vocals of Dylan Walker of Full of Hell and Chip King of The Body.
Where their first album has the raw produced, natural sounding feel I mentioned above, this new album, “Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light” is very electronic in nature. The album often utilises programmed drums instead of traditional drums, reminiscent of EDM, Trip-hop, Jungle and Drum n’ Bass. I was shocked to be honest, given the nature of previous releases by both bands.
The album opens with “Light Penetrates”, it starts with a ‘bit crushed’ synth line that sounds digitally destroyed, maybe what music sounds like as it enters a black hole? The synth that opens proceedings is soon accompanied by some syncopated drum fills until the initial groove is established with a slow, crawling sludge layered with Chip King’s anguished screams. As the guitar changes develop, Walker takes over the vocals in trademark, gritty style. A haunting folky, higher register vocal appears in the background, similar to something from tracks off earlier releases by The Body. As the white noise of the track saturates the other instruments, a wild John Zorn-esque saxophone brings chaos to the fold, closing the track very abruptly to lead immediately into the second track and first promotional pre-album release single.
“Earth Is a Cage” has a very driven ‘four to the floor’ style dance beat. Very straight in rhythm and one of the simplest efforts by either band. The vocals may prevent it getting into any dance clubs near you but this is as close as they’ll probably ever get. I’d go out a lot more if this was played by the club D.J. It follows a simple call/reply vocal attack from King and Walker, with good shifts in dynamic to kill the momentum and burst back to life.
The A-side closes with a couple of songs that remind me of Massive Attack or Tricky and their brooding, moody, cool brand of trip-hop. It becomes apparent that those involved in this project were determined to explore the sort of influences that they usually aren’t able to in their non-collaborative states. “Didn’t the Night One” showcases these influences in excellent fashion and was instantly my favourite track based on the first and more recent listens. The fuzz bass, metallic pipe crashes, and the general groove of the drums is infectious.
Following on from the trip-hop section of the album is “Our Love Conducted with Shields Aloft” (not a great track title for my word count). This begins with a thin drone, like a small toy aircraft engine or damaged desk top fan, accompanied by a jazz style drum solo, think Buddy Rich, being told to go mad for a bit. This is not a track I would put on as a standalone. I thought to myself during my first listen that I hoped it develops beyond this initial fabric of noise, it doesn’t. It develops to be more unsettling and more uncomfortable but not in any musical or melodic way. In the context of the album however it does make sense, it does add to the overall atmosphere of the collection and is therefore crucial to the listening experience, just not as easy as other parts of the album.
They reward your patience however as the next track feels like relief against the previous track’s tension. “Master’s Story” is another very strong track that boasts a similar, simplistic style to “Earth is a cage” which features some snare drum work that I’ve only really heard on Drum ‘n Bass or Jungle records. I never thought this reference would come up before I heard it!
At the beginning of “Farewell, Man”, the penultimate track, it reminds me of death metal band, Incantation. Muddy blast beats from the drums and bass heavy distorted guitars scold the listener until they are cut in dramatic style to usher in a sludgy paced song overall. This song in particular sounds more like the precedent set by their first collaborative album, also being one of the few with predominantly acoustic drums.
To consider for a moment some of the comparisons I’ve mentioned; Jungle, bands ranging from Massive Attack to Incantation, I think this demonstrates the eclectic nature of the album perfectly.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at this album. I was completely wrong with my expectations for it and I think that this is part of its magic. I was expecting to like it but for different reasons. If you are familiar with either of the bands’ previous works then you are in for a different kind of ride. It makes you think where a third album’s journey may take us.