Neither The Body nor Full Of Hell particularly need any introduction here: Heavy Blog has long traced the activity of the two bands separately due to both their talent and prolific nature (as well as their proclivity for splits and collaborative projects) and this culminated last year in our collective excitement for, and coverage of, the full-length collaboration between the pair. That album – One Day You Will Ache As I Ache – was exactly what we expected it to be: a noisy, messy, nihilistic affair that showed grindcore, sludge, noise, drone, and industrial melting together into a pyroclastic flow of static and feedback. Both bands have been on a run of their own recently, as well, with The Body putting out their “disgusting pop album” No One Deserves Happiness last year and A Home On Earth this year, and Full Of Hell bookending 2016 with the EP Amber Mote in the Black Vault and a caustic split with Nails, and dropping the bar-upping, incredible third LP Trumpeting Ecstasy in the first half of 2017.
All this is to say that Ascending A Mountain Of Heavy Light is in a bit of an odd position as an album: on the one hand, it has high expectations to meet given the stature of both bands and the way their fanbases seem to think them incapable of doing wrong, but on the other hand, if each band’s second LP this year alone is a bit of a dud, it can easily be written off. What this situation leads to is two already eccentric bands taking the next step together in experimentation, even as it only further cements the power both bands wield separately and together.
Ascending is far more of a power electronics and industrial record than it is sludge, grindcore, or drone. As soon as one hits play on the first track, “Light Penetrates,” what greets the audience is a harsh, warbling, wavering synth, shimmering and radiant and stretched far past its breaking point, warping around crystalline synthetic hi-hats. It puts the listener on edge immediately and builds tension into the first crashing roll of drums that occurs a half-minute into the track. Just under a minute in, we get affirmation that this is, in fact, The Body and Full Of Hell as Chip King and Dylan Walker trade vocals over the building and unsettling instrumental. Distorted, muddied choirs and a molasses-thick guitar join the fragmented synthesizers, and eventually, free-jazz horns start to screech as well, forcing out the human vocals with their tirade of noise.
What hits immediately is how apt of a name Ascending A Mountain Of Heavy Light really is. The record has an upward, constantly climactic slope to it and a distorted, warped radiance to its instrumentation that feels almost relieving at times, even at its most oppressive. The synthesizers are thick, warm, opulent sheets of light that slowly spread and corrupt into fractured, twisted, and eventually unrecognizable forms, melding with the harsh vocal attacks and bludgeoning quasi-metal instrumentation into something that truly does feel as though the listener is venturing further and further up a mountain of heavy light.
If there’s one complaint to be leveraged against Ascending, it’s that one is aware of what they’re in for from the first track onwards. With the exception of some excellent drumming from percussion wizard Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt and Black Pus (who also did the cover art), there’s little to introduce variance into the sound Full Of Hell and The Body have created here. This is certainly mitigated by the album’s length – 35 minutes is, quite frankly, the perfect run-time for this record – but it also holds true more than it should that anybody who’s heard one song can pretty well imagine what the rest of the record contains. In the end, though, consistency is a double-edged sword, with this pitfall being almost a necessary result thereof, so it’s difficult to hold this as much of a slight against this record.
Ascending A Mountain Of Heavy Light is far more of an affirmation of mutual aesthetic and thematic understanding between the two bands than a record that showcases their ability to bring their typical genres together, since it barely folds into itself the typical playbook of either The Body or Full Of Hell. Although elements of each band are recognizable and present here, what truly shows their collaborative prowess is the way they push the envelope far beyond what either has previously attempted. This is a bold and adventurous release, powerful and heavy and resplendent, and a monolithic testament to the esoteric love of abrasion in all its forms that powers both of these institutions in extreme metal.
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Ascending A Mountain Of Heavy Light was released on Thrill Jockey Records back on the 17th. You can get the album in both digital and physical forms through its bandcamp page.