Like many metalheads, I prefer some genres over others. My appetite for dense slabs of doom appears insatiable, and however much fetid black metal I draw from that icy well, my thirst remains unslaked. This doesn’t mean standout albums from other strains of metal escape my notice. Two years ago, ostensible grindcore band Full of Hell dropped twenty-two minutes of distilled wretchedness that, in any year that didn’t include future classics Relentless Mutation and Mirror Reaper, would have easily secured my AOTY spot. Trumpeting Ecstasy‘s untempered viciousness and surprising experimentation was a breath of putrid air amongst the usual Cherd-bait of 2017.1 Had I been employed by this hallowed site at the time, I would have seriously considered slapping a 4.5 on it and endured the cries of “Overrating bastard!” hurled at me from my superiors. So when I saw follow-up Weeping Choir pop into our promo bin, I jumped on it faster than Game of Thrones‘ quality tanked once it outstripped the books.2
Weeping Choir is the fourth full length—and first on Relapse—from these Marylanders and comes just two years after their last. Having previously gone four years between LPs while releasing splits and collaborations with everyone short of Beyoncé, it’s nice to see the band take some “me” time. This narrower focus results in a subtle evolution of the band’s sound, as Weeping Choir sports a diversity of styles well beyond grind. There are still short bursts of brutal violence, but the more experimental moments of Trumpeting Ecstasy are expanded upon here. There are several tracks featuring electronics of varying prominence. Straight-up, knuckle-dragging death metal (“Silmaril”) lives alongside grotesquely mutated hardcore (“Thundering Hammers”), while the album’s centerpiece is “Army of Obsidian Glass,” a seven-minute, idiosyncratic sludge doom cut that will grab the attention of anyone who enjoyed Thou‘s 2018 EPs.
Opening track “Burning Myrrh” fittingly combines most of the album’s elements into a single violent blast. There are heavy chugs, searing tremolos, explosive drumming courtesy of Dave Bland and a vocal attack that includes roaring death growls, blackened screeches, and hardcore shouts split between main vocalist Dylan Walker and bassist Sam Digristine. The song’s tempo eventually decays until it crawls to a stop without sacrificing any ferocity. Much of the album continues the powerviolence assault, but when “Army of Obsidian Glass” brings back the slow tempo after the album’s mid-point, it’s a revelation. A measured, swaying riff is backed by an odd moaning choir through most of its runtime. With two minutes to go, there is a marked pause before the song blooms into a conspicuously beautiful guitar line and clean female vocals by Lingua Ignota. It’s a powerful moment that underscores Full of Hell‘s genre-transcending talent.
With so many collaborative projects under their collective belt, perhaps most notably with avant-doom outfit, The Body, Full of Hell has never been averse to risk-taking. This spirit—and perhaps The Body‘s influence—leads to the one element on Weeping Choir that returns mixed results. Electronics play a larger role here than on Trumpeting Ecstasy, most notably with “Rainbow Coil.” It’s a creaking, amorphous, Lynchian track, and while the specific sound and feel do fit the album, its placement and length are an issue. Arriving as track four of eleven and boasting the second longest run time, it effectively drains all early momentum by the time it slowly fades to silence. Its closing machine gun beat is picked up seconds later in the aggressively driving “Aria of Jeweled Tears,” but “Aria…” is a relatively weak track when compared to the surrounding material. On the other hand, late highlight “Angels Gather Here” is far more successful at integrating electronic noise. It’s a rusted, lurching, full-on industrial metal speaker blower, and it ends on the kind of Trinity Broadcasting Network sound bite that bands salivate for.
Weeping Choir is something of a transitional album, slowly pushing outward into multiple sonic directions. The band has more than enough talent to pull it off, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some unevenness along the way. Normally, being unimpressed by one track and tepid on another out of eleven wouldn’t garner many demerits from me, but when said album is only twenty-five minutes total, it’s harder to gloss over. This hiccup aside, Full of Hell have once again delivered an album as adventurous as it is vicious and solidified their standing as the cream of the grindcore crop.