Full Of Hell: “We wanted to ask what it would sound like if the Butthole Surfers played grindcore”

Fifteen years at the serrated edge of powerviolence have turned Full Of Hell into one of the most reliably extreme outfits in heavy music. With sixth album Coagulated Bliss, however, the Maryland madmen are still pushing boundaries – even finding a little order in chaos.

Full Of Hell: “We wanted to ask what it would sound like if the Butthole Surfers played grindcore”
Sam Law
Zachary Jones

Full Of Hell do not fuck around. Over the course of 15 years, five albums, countless collaborations, EPs, split releases and live recordings, the Maryland collective have forged a peerless reputation for uncompromising extremity and artistic adventure. Since 2021’s scalding Garden Of Burning Apparitions, for instance, we’ve gotten the Aurora Leaking From An Open Wound EP, a stunning split with Los Angeles powerviolence legends GASP, last March’s Suffocating Hallucination collab with Denver doomsters Primitive Man and December’s astonishing When No Birds Sang co-production with Philadelphia shoegaze powerhouse NOTHING.

Even amongst that uber-stacked catalogue, though, Full Of Hell's sixth standalone LP Coagulated Bliss feels like a landmark. Thematically, its narrowing of focus from the formless big evils of existence to the painfully tangible horrors of life in small-town America is a startling, confronting wake-up call. Harnessing all of the caustic brutality, dizzying technicality and ravenous momentum they’ve built to this point, then honing and streamlining it with leaner, ‘pop-influenced’ songwriting, more nuanced emotion and impressive lightness of touch, it is the sound of guitarist Spencer Hazard, drummer David Bland, bassist Samuel Di Gristine and vocalist Dylan Walker hurtling into a startling new circle of torment.

“We’ve been trying to force ourselves out of our comfort zone,” grins Spencer, looking out at a misty Maryland morning. “The purpose of a band is to reach new people, to continue to expand...”

Coagulated Bliss feels like a telling album title. Is this a reflection on good times gone stale?
“The main theme of the record is how we all grew up in these backwoods towns: the kind of places that people imagine could be the perfect picture of suburbia, but are just as messed up as inner-cities. Drugs. Violence. Family trauma. Dave’s band Jarhead Fertilizer has a very similar aesthetic, because he grew up in those same situations with homelessness and drugs. Dylan wanted to write about a similar thing from his own perspective. It’s ‘Coagulated’ as in coagulated blood in a needle, and ‘Bliss’ as in living in that ‘ideal’ situation. But nothing’s ever really ideal.”

Small towns are sometimes even darker than inner cities…
“We always say that we’re ‘from’ Ocean City, Maryland. It’s a resort town. About half a million people come to visit, but when winter comes, there’s maybe only 10,000 people that really live here. The next city over – Salisbury – is where you go to the mall or get a guitar fixed. At one point it had like the highest per capita murder rate in the United States, in a city of maybe 50,000 people.”

Rather than the ‘fantastical, metaphorical shit’ Dylan has written previously, what caused the change of approach to a more real-world sense of horror?
“It was an intentional shift. Even with the music and artwork, we just wanted to try a different approach. When people see the artwork, they’ll see that it's a very stark contrast with what we’ve done before. Rather than granular, black-and-white photorealistic art, we’ve gone to the opposite end of the spectrum: handpainted, super-colourful, super-bright. With the music we’ve tried to look back at what we’ve done before while adding new influences. Dylan still writes in a very avant-garde style, but he’s grounded in the small-town realities in which we grew up.”

What is that abstract artwork trying to depict?
“We worked with the artist Brian Montouri, who’s done stuff with people like The Dillinger Escape Plan in the past. He’s familiar with our area, but he asked us to go around and send him videos and pictures of the landscapes where we grew up. So I sent our boardwalks and ocean, the farm I live on and Dave’s house. He incorporated those things while adding his own more avant-garde take.”

As you alluded to, that vibrancy is reflected in the sound of the songs. As much as tracks like Schizoid Rupture, Vomiting Glass and Gelding Of Men still come from the outer reaches of extremity, is it fair to say that this the most ‘musical’ Full Of Hell album to date?
“We wanted to ask how it would sound if someone like the Butthole Surfers played grindcore: if they were this extreme, crazy band who also wrote pop songs. And I wanted to draw on my influences like Melvins, Harvey Milk, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and run it through a lens of Discordance Axis or Napalm Death. Basically to mix the pop and rock bands I like – those bands I actually listen to away from the kind of music that I make – with more extreme sounds.”

How did working with NOTHING on last year’s When No Birds Sang change your approach to ‘conventional’ songwriting?
“Really, the NOTHING record was written in an unconventional way. We played Roadburn a couple of years ago and they asked if we could do a NOTHING collab. Rather than just going on and playing each other’s songs or doing improv, we got together to write a record. Nicky [Palermo] and Doyle [Martin] from NOTHING just came to Dave’s house and we spent, like, four days writing the entire thing. The main thing I took away from that whole process, though, was that as much as we had a ton of ideas for what we could do, it’s better to serve the song rather than ourselves or our egos.”

You collaborated with Primitive Man last year, too. Is it fair to say that some of their doomy, sludgy influence seeps through on Coagulated Bliss’ longest track Bleeding Horizon?
“I don’t want to pigeonhole the type of music that Primitive Man or NOTHING make, but ever since Full Of Hell started out, we’ve taken influence from bludgeoning drone bands and shoegaze bands as well as noisier pop bands and things like that. So if you look at a song like Bleeding Horizon, it’s more about how Melvins and Harvey Milk are two of my favourite bands, and they do the super-droning blown-out sound that goes into almost catchy pop-rock oriented riffs. I wanted to do that.”

Does working on so many different projects help stoke your creativity?
“It’s more about taking things as they come. If I start thinking, ‘I have to write a new record!’ I’ll be stumped. That’s happened to me before. But if I’m just messing around with my guitar at home, I’ll come up with riffs and send them to the guys. If they like them, I’ll try to turn them into songs.”

How did writing and recording sessions for this ‘proper’ Full Of Hell album compare to working with other bands?
“We wrote the whole record with NOTHING before we recorded but, normally, like working with The Body in the past, we prefer to collaborate by going into the studio together and trying to be creative on the spot. We might be in the studio for a week, spend the first three days writing songs, then the next four recording them. For a solo Full Of Hell record, it’s different. We might come up with some songs on the spot like that, but I prefer to have gone through that process of sending around ideas, building them into full songs, then going into the studio. It’s more fun to have the meat-and-potatoes done and spend more time combing through and adding extra bits.”

Stylistically, does it feel like Coagulated Bliss could be a turning point for Full Of Hell?
“It’s hard to say. You don’t really know until you get to the next thing. But we would like to try to do different stuff, both in terms of songwriting and doing different tours so that we can play to some new people. If you play with the same bands to the same people constantly, it’s going to get stagnant. So it’s a turning point in as much as we’re trying to keep pushing ourselves, entertaining ourselves, trying new things. On some of the older recordings between Weeping Choir and Garden Of Burning Apparitions, it felt like maybe some of the songwriting had begun to get a little safe. But this record and the NOTHING record is very much about us getting out of our comfort zone.”

Gabriel Solomon is scheduled to properly join the band after recording. How will he fit in?
“Gabriel has been filling in for me on overseas tours for a few years now. Full Of Hell have been a band for 15 years at this point and I’m going to be 35 tomorrow. I needed a break from the constant travel. It had been wearing too much on my psyche. I knew Gabriel from playing together in this sludgy punk band, Reaper’s Gong. He used to play in HR from Bad Brains’ backing band, too. I’d always thought about expanding the band, where we have a second guitar or drummer or bass player. Gabe can do all those things and every other instrument, so why wouldn’t we ask him? So far, it’s helped fill out our sound. Even on the older songs, it’s added new instrumental interplay.”

Can we expect to see you back on overseas touring duty on this album?
“The idea was only ever really to take a break from it. The last time I was overseas with Full Of Hell was at the height of COVID. It was just a stressful situation with all the testing and paperwork. I don’t mind flying, but I didn’t like all the extra stress that came at that time. I just needed to take a break. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ll try to get back out there!”

Is the Full Of Hell that Gabe’s stepping into sometimes as surreally nightmarish as the sound? We were at the Chicago show in 2022, where a massive dead rat got thrown onstage…
“For the most part, it’s pretty boring! Gabe has already done a few tours with us and he’s finding out all you really do in a band all day is sit in a van for eight hours, get to a venue, play, then sit in the van for another eight hours. He’d played with HR, but only regionally. I guess it’s jarring to get to tour the world, but not actually do a whole lot. Life isn’t as crazy as people might think. When it comes to the rat thing, that just seems to keep happening in Chicago. I kinda wish it would stop!”

Marking 15 years of Full Of Hell, what would the younger you say if they could see you now?
“The younger me would be happy, I think. When you set out as an extreme band, you never really expect to be the biggest in the world. The thing that I was always afraid of – even as a younger man – was to find myself in a creative situation that had grown stagnant. I think that my younger self would be proud. Even now, although I’m not constantly writing on purpose, through working with other bands and stuff like that, I am constantly writing.”

How do you might you continue to evolve longer-term? Is it possible to live in this world forever?
“I think about those questions, sometimes. Being in an extreme band is physically taxing. I get cramped-up. So does Dave. But we’ve always looked at legendary bands like Melvins, Converge, or whatever Justin Broadrick is doing and thought that if they can do it, so can we. We can shift what we do to make it easier for us to keep making music. Going back to your previous question, about whether this album might be a turning-point – or kind of an end-point – for Full Of Hell, maybe this is the start of a new era where we have to be smarter as we grow older. Maybe there will have to be shifts in how we create. But it’ll always be challenging and extreme…”

Coagulated Bliss is released April 26 via Closed Casket Activities

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