“I have the utmost respect for purists of any genre, but for me it’s boring to stay in one lane. Full Of Hell has always strived to be the band that we wished existed when we were kids. We’ve always liked the deep, jarring contrast of blending a lot of styles together.”
That’s vocalist Dylan Walker talking about the genre-bending blitzkrieg of powerviolence, grind and death metal that has propelled Full Of Hell to the forefront of extreme music in the last decade. He and guitarist Spencer Hazard, drummer Dave Bland and bassist Sam DiGristine steamrolled the underground with their 2017 breakout album Trumpeting Ecstasy and 2019’s Weeping Choir, both of which ranked high on year-end best-of lists from the likes of Decibel, Revolver and Cvlt Nation.
Emerging from the pandemic with their fifth full-length, Garden Of Burning Apparitions, Full Of Hell have added new dimensions to their warp-speed hellscape. “This one is definitely more influenced by noise rock,” says Hazard, crediting his participation in Philly AmRep mainliners Eye Flys with a spillover effect. “But these FOH songs are more influenced by stuff like Zeni Geva and Harvey Milk rather than Helmet or Unsane. I wanted to balance that sound with our usual death metal/grind approach.”
With that expansion comes an evolution in how Walker views Full Of Hell itself. He’s been thinking a lot over the last couple of years about what the band is—not what he wants it to be. The name Full Of Hell—besides being an Entombed reference—could be viewed as shorthand for the potential of a human life: Great misdeeds or great good. Contrary to popular belief, it was never a religious reference. They picked it because they liked it, but it’s grown to have a deeper meaning.
When Full Of Hell kicked off in 2009, the band members were still teenagers. Bland was just 14 and couldn’t participate in the band’s early US tours. When they got the opportunity to tour Europe for the first time, his parents had to write a formal permission letter to the school board to let him leave for three weeks without being flunked out of high school.
Walker helped grease the wheels with some light forgery. Because it was a DIY tour, there was no booking agent, per se. So Walker drew up a fake contract from a fake agent extolling the virtues of touring as a “learning opportunity” for the young drummer. Which, as it turns out, it was. “That tour was like being baptized in fire,” Walker recalls. “So many things went wrong.” Still, the band has remained aggressively DIY ever since.
Produced by Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Garden Of Burning Apparitions also sees Hazard incorporating new guitar tunings into Full Of Hell’s sonic palette. “I was playing with a few other local guys with guitars tuned differently,” he explains. “I end up writing some riffs that would fit better in FOH than my other projects. But the main idea was to blend sounds we’ve done throughout our discography into a cohesive record without sounding rehashed or forced.”
Lyrically, Garden Of Burning Apparitions sees Walker exploring our own impermanence and the fear that comes with knowing death is inescapable. That fear is only exacerbated by the human atrocities committed on an almost daily basis both here and abroad. “There’s also a through-line about seeking some kind of spirituality,” Walker says. “Or at least examining what kind of role that could have in my life—or anyone’s life—on a level beyond Earth.”
With a decade of anti-religious lyrical themes under his belt, Walker definitely isn’t talking about connecting with a higher power. It’s more of a search for meaning amidst the inexorable meaninglessness. Which helps explain why lead single “Industrial Messiah Complex” grinds organized religion to a pulp in under 90 seconds. Walker wrote the lyrics about the commodification of spirituality seen in America’s vast network of garish mega-churches and how those practices are at odds with true spirituality.
Meanwhile, “Reeking Tunnels” rides a strident noise rock riff down into the sewer. It’s a metaphor for the physical and mental space we become trapped in when we live in a perpetual state of fear and hate. “I had this mental image of a cave system, this place where people are stuck,” Walker explains. “And they end up eating each other and living in their own filth.”
Elsewhere, justifiable ochlophobia propels the guttural death metal blast of “Eroding Shell.” Lyrically, the song seeks to capture our fear of the violent, ignorant mob—a scene glimpsed far too often in this volatile era. “It’s about fear of an aggressor and dying alone at the hands of another in a violent way,” Walker says. “That’s a universal thing, I think—people are scary all over the world.”
In the end, Full Of Hell’s boundary smashing has paid off again. “I think it’s good that we tried not to pigeonhole ourselves early on,” Walker reflects. “Because now, 10 years in, we have the opportunity to make whatever record we want, within reason, and people will follow along.”