Full Of Hell and NOTHING: “Our philosophy lies in the chaotic nature of life, with a direct emphasis on existential dread”

Full Of Hell and NOTHING explain the meaning behind their incredible new collaboration album, When No Birds Sang, and how it was inspired by a haunting 9/11 photo…

Full Of Hell and NOTHING: “Our philosophy lies in the chaotic nature of life, with a direct emphasis on existential dread”
James Hickie
Caleb Conner

The New York skyline is visible from the car Domenic ‘Nicky’ Palermo is driving. He’s currently holding his phone up to the passenger window as he crosses the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that connects the city to the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. He’s heading to his native Philadelphia. “I’ve got to give my plumber some money,” he explains, which sounds like it might be a euphemism but isn’t.

Domenic is using part of this 100-odd mile drive to discuss When No Birds Sang, his band NOTHING’s collaboration with Full Of Hell, represented today by vocalist Dylan Walker, who’s taking a break from working in his print shop to dial in.

Both men had put out records on Baltimore label, A398 Recordings, while unconsciously maintaining what Dylan calls “one degree of separation”, before mutual friends finally introduced them. “We didn’t even hang out for that long before we decided to make a record,” reveals Dylan. “It was a no-brainer.”

“We were always right next to each other without knowing each other well,” is Domenic’s take. “It came together organically when it did, in the perfect amount of time, after both of us had run through the gauntlet for 10-plus years, knowing what to hate from the industry. Crossing paths when we did is cosmic in a sense.”

Their union is born from mutual respect and admiration, even if you might not automatically imagine their bands, shoegaze and grindcore outfits respectively, would make natural bedfellows. As it turns out, an aversion to lazy musical labels and the rigid limitations of genre are just a couple of the things the two men share.

“We’ve both been antiheroes in our genres for sure,” suggests Domenic. “We catch grief but we’re also applauded for taking steps to expand the horizons we’re enveloped in.”

Dylan agrees, though he’s keen to clarify that both bands are emulating their rule-breaking musical heroes on their own terms, rather than pushing the envelope as a response to a negative outside influence.

“There are a lot of commonalities between the bands,” he suggests. “I feel like NOTHING makes confrontational music have a very listenable, beautiful edge to it. But there are also angles of it that are too ugly for that crowd at times. And on our end, the grinders and metal guys don't always like how [Full Of Hell] carry ourselves, because we push from the other direction. Meeting in the middle made a lot of sense and was an equal challenge for both of us.”

Unsurprisingly, given the simpatico between Dylan and Domenic, the process of bridging Full Of Hell and NOTHING's sounds, under the discerning ear of “genius” producer Will Putney, was smooth. “It was almost comically easy,” laughs Dylan. “Everybody was super-invested in Dom’s vision for the record, and everyone felt heard. We all subconsciously knew who was going to do what. We’ve all done this for long enough to know when to give room and not be overbearing. There were no riffs that came to the table where we said, ‘I dunno.’ It was literally all awesome.”

“It was kind of chaotic,” adds Domenic. “But in the most calming kind of way.”

That’s not to suggest who did what is particularly black and white. While you might assume the more caustic elements come courtesy of Full Of Hell, and the more ethereal walls of sound are the work of NOTHING, that’s not necessarily the case, as Domenic reveals. “I think people will be surprised by a lot of the breakdowns of songs and who’s responsible for what.”

Now that When No Birds Sang has been out for a couple of weeks, the more keenly investigative fans out there have begun to decipher its conceptual focus. While Domenic, a man startlingly open about his experiences of violence and imprisonment during a 2018 K! interview, confirms that it relates to the terror attacks on 9/11, he won’t be overly drawn on exactly how, though he will discuss why.

“It was important to not let it engulf the album’s identity,” explains Domenic. “I don’t want to lay it all out there, but as we were deciding how we could write together, the path of least resistance, idea wise, was to write about a situational event. So I brought up Jon Briley.”

For those unfamiliar with that name, Jonathan Briley is thought by many to be ‘The Falling Man’ photographed plummeting to his death from the World Trade Center. There’s some uncertainty about this, however, as despite the image being one of the most famous and scrutinised of the modern era, the identify of the figure is difficult to verify. As is determining whether the man slipped and fell from the unstable structure, had jumped to avoid the blazing inferno, or chose to jump instead of a more painful end.

Following a 2003 Esquire magazine article entitled The Falling Man, adapted into a 2006 documentary of the same name, Jonathan Briley was suggested as the possible identity of the mysterious figure – a theory supported by his family and colleagues. He was a 43-year-old sound engineer who worked at the Window On The World restaurant at the top of the building’s north tower.

Whether it was Jonathan or not, and you get the sense Domenic believes it was, the fact remains that on September 11, 2001, a man who loved and was loved, with dreams and desires, went to work, unknowingly setting himself on a course with a nightmarish situation that resulted in his death along with 2,602 other people in those towers.

So how did The Falling Man, whoever he was, spend his final hours alive? It’s a question that fascinated the members of Full Of Hell and NOTHING alike, tapping into their thoughts and feelings about this existence we all share.

“The pure philosophy that surrounds [both bands] lies very much in the chaotic nature of life with a direct emphasis on the existential dread,” reveals Domenic. “So writing a fictional day in the life of someone who was dealt such an absurd hand seemed like a good place to start. The whole piece, from music to the lyrics to the artwork and visuals gives our story its life and its full comprehension.”

How that’s perceived and interpreted is for others to uncover. What is obvious from even the first play of When No Birds Sang is that it’s an astonishing record, shot through with beauty and brutality. There are allusions to the concept, of course; the speaking voices heard on opening track Rose Tinted World convey the mundanity of the bulletins and weather reports that morning to an America unaware of the horrors about to unfold. That chatter builds, the tone growing frantic as the news agenda changes, gradually overlapping into a confused, indecipherable squall.

Even without that context, the moments of peace and disquiet reflect the dichotomy at work in our own minds – a read that Domenic in particular appreciates. “We absolutely wanted it to be unassumingly devastating,” he confirms. “We wanted to keep the artwork colourful and shy away from the things you’re supposed to do on a heavy record.”

“We all really care about the sequencing of a record,” adds Dylan. “Of its peaks and valleys. It’s important on a sonic level but also thematically. Everything that Full Of Hell makes has an undercurrent of existential dread and anxiety. Everybody’s got their shit but I think that it translated really well in this collaboration. In my head, as soon as we’d figured out a narrative for the record, I was living a day in the life of this person – empathising with this experience and imagining feelings I’d be dealing with in whatever situation I was put in.”

“Even concept aside, the same day-in day-out trajectory of the common person and the unexpected devastation that lies around every corner are things that are constantly harped on by both our bands,” continues Domenic. “So putting us together in the same room, you know you’re going to end up in this area.”

Given the extraordinary fruits of this collaboration, and the pride its creation has given Domenic and Dylan, it’s natural to wonder whether it’s something that Full Of Hell and NOTHING would be open to repeating. Somehow it’s not something these two men have spoken about… until now.

“We barely scratched the surface,” smiles Dylan. “But both of our bands are so busy. Full Of Hell has multiple records coming out next year, and there’ll be a new NOTHING record within the next year, so it’s about finding the time. I know everybody in my band would love to.”

“We haven’t had a chance to sit back and discuss what just happened,” Domenic ponders. “This was a quest to do this thing in exactly the right way, and people actually like it too, so we’re presented with the question of, ‘What next?’ We’ll have to see what happens. I’d love to see what else could be done – these people are my family at this point, so it would be sinister to think about what we could do if we spend even more time on something. Maybe we’d ruin it.”

Dylan laughs.

“That’s the gamble… it’s worth a shot.”

Full Of Hell and NOTHING's album When No Birds Sang is out now via Closed Casket Activities

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