It's hard to make a record that fuses shrieking, unbridled misery with serene, pensive reflection sound like a unified artistic statement. But that's exactly what Full of Hell and Nothing did on their new collaboration album When No Birds Sang. The LP, released by Closed Casket Activities on Dec. 1, has been met with broad critical acclaim. Full of Hell frontman Dylan Walker was appreciative of the support but unfazed.
"We're not making records for other people," he told Q
The album has clear shoegaze and metal influences, but isn't limited by the confines of either genre. Bands like Deafheaven and Ghost Bath have fused the two before, but When No Birds Sang doesn't follow that template. The album's songs have a marching doomy pace that makes listening to it all the way through almost feel like a physical journey. The tracks are broken up by atmospheric wall of sound passages with a dark, trance-like character. Some songs sound more like Full of Hell's signature brand of extreme metal and others sound more like Nothing's atmospheric shoegaze, but the album was not a split. Every single track was a completely collaborative effort.
Walker explained the record's contrast in culinary terms: "I love salty and sweet foods," he said. "They compliment each other really well."
Nothing frontman Domenic Palermo and Walker have been aware of each for at least a decade. They've both released albums on the Baltimore label A389 and worked with Closed Casket owner Justin Louden, who currently manages Full of Hell. But the pair didn't become close friends until they connected at the Psycho Las Vegas festival in 2019.
"We're like two cars driving on a highway forever and eventually smashing into each other," Palermo said. "It's weird it took as long as it did."
Writing songs in a collaborative setting wasn't new for either band. Full of Hell has a long history of composing records with acts like Merzbow, the Body and Primitive Man. Palermo is the main fixture in Nothing; over the course of the band's history, he's brought on more than a dozen different musicians to work with him.
The idea for When No Birds Sang arose amid the pandemic in late 2020, but the final product wouldn't come to fruition for more than three years. This made the writing process very drawn out and intentional. Walker and Palermo crafted a loose fictional narrative to underpin the album so it would be easier to write lyrics. They were hesitant to speak about the details of the story, but admitted that it was inspired in part by "The Falling Man," a photo which shows an office worker plummeting to his death from the World Trade Center on 9/11.
"We didn't want to push this narrative out across everything, but we left a lot of Easter eggs," Palermo said. "I think if you're paying any attention you can draw your own conclusion," Walker added.
The musicians listed experimental rock groups like Harvey Milk, Swans, Roy Montgomery and Flying Saucer Attack as influences on the album.
Palermo traveled from his native Philadelphia to Walker's home in Ocean City, Maryland, so the pair could record early demos in December 2021. All members of both bands came together in the Netherlands in April 2022 to flesh out the tracks further and perform them live at that year's Roadburn Festival.
"We really just kind of muscled stuff out on stage," Palermo said.
The six compositions on the album weren't set in stone until they were recorded over the course of two weeks at Graphic Nature Audio in Belleville, New Jersey, with producer Will Putney. Full of Hell guitarist Spencer Hazard brought four different amp heads and 12 different guitars to the studio. Palermo recalled layering thousands of pieces of TV audio to create the extended outro for "Rose Tinted World," the first track on the album. "That was my favorite part," he said. "We really wanted to build a massive wall of sound at the end of that track."
Both frontmen are proud of what the bands have accomplished with the album. "It's the most comprehensive piece of art I've ever worked on," Palermo said. "We encapsulated our friendship as a moment of time on this record." The pair is open to bringing the bands together for another collaboration in the future.
Although the two groups hope to tour together and play the album live someday, there are no plans for that at the moment. "We've barely digested it at this point," Walker said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." He added that Full of Hell is already completely booked for 2024.
When No Birds Sang is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music.