Full of Hell, by now an established pillar of the modern extreme metal world, seem to have settled into a comfortable niche, if the last three records of “harsh grinding death” serve as an indication of their headspace. 2017 brought us Trumpeting Ecstasy, 2019 Weeping Choir, and now 2021 brings us Garden of Burning Apparitions, another under-25-minute LP packed full of haymaker deathgrind riffs, glowering anti-Christian ideals, and explosive moments of harsh noise. In my review of Weeping Choir, I wrote that that album “feels like the record Full of Hell have been building up to for a decade now,” and I stand by that. Which means the question facing Garden is: where does the band go from their artistic self-actualization? 

The answer: you take the winning formula and stretch, pinch, and bend it in just enough places to stay interesting. The jumps between the past few records are far smaller on their face than that from 2014’s Full of Hell & Merzbow and before to their current state, making this record pretty immediately intuitive and welcoming to fans, but Full of Hell still have plenty of tricks up their sleeve and the ways that they deploy them across Garden make it just as vital and energizing of a listen as anything else they’ve done to date. 

Most noticeably, Spencer Hazard, Sam DiGristine, and Dave Bland – guitarist, bassist, and drummer respectively – have pushed the technical precision of Garden’s instrumentation further than any of their past records. Previous albums had their moments, and frankly all three instrumentalists in Full of Hell have been significantly underappreciated for this side of their talent for some time now, but Garden is on a completely different level. Hazard in particular seems to have leaned even further into the Martonian and Procopian (Discordance Axis and Human Remains, respectively, both connected bands via percussion god Dave Witte) side of his riff writing. In heightening their performances, the group have managed to bring an even more dizzying and overwhelming energy to their already ferocious style. 

In a similar vein, the group have found more space to play with some outside-the-box sounds and collect more of their influences beyond the most obvious corollaries. There’s nothing here with the same overt “whoa” factor as Nicole Dollanganger’s feature on the title track from Trumpeting Ecstasy, but Hazard deploys effects pedals to add appreciably unique sounds to various tracks – most notably closer “Celestial Hierarch” – and DiGristine’s saxophone returns, this time along with bass clarinet from Shoshana Rosenberg, to bring an appropriately climactic layer of texture to a few songs. And while the group have made their appreciation for noise rock known in the past (including a cover of “Oven” by Melvins on Amber Mote in the Black Vault), “Reeking Tunnels” is easily the most overt display of this side of their DNA to date.

Moreover, it’s hard to understate how much the decision to work with Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets to produce this album, instead of returning to Kurt Ballou for the third time in a row, helps to differentiate Garden from its predecessors. Manchester and Full of Hell have some familiarity: Machines With Magnets produced both of the group’s collaborative records with The Body, and Dylan has guested on Lingua Ignota pieces produced by Manchester. However, his production style is far less “metal” overall, and this leads to some textural choices on the record that are impossible to envision coming from a crunchier, sharper producer like Ballou. In the most obvious instances, this results in moments like the pulverizing end of “Industrial Messiah Complex” and the refrain of “Murmuring Foul Spring,” which owe a good deal of their heaviness to the specific way the various sounds, especially the drums, flatten and warp on top of one another.Overall, Garden sounds grimier and blunter than its predecessors, giving the record an appreciably foul bite in place of the surgical precision of 2017 and 2019’s outings.

It’s hard to imagine Garden of Burning Apparitions being the record that changes any naysayer’s mind about Full of Hell, but established fans should welcome this one with open arms. By no means is it a stark departure from the group’s existing corpus, but at the same time, it’s obvious from their technical growth and moments of experimentation that the quartet still care about pushing the boundaries of Full of Hell as a creative and provocative endeavor, both by sharpening their edge even further and by incorporating new ideas where they fit. If Weeping Choir was Full of Hell finding their self-actualization on the cutting edges of grindcore and death metal, then Garden of Burning Apparitions is Full of Hell as they optimally remain: aggressive, cacophonous, and dark. Numb your mind.

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Garden of Burning Apparitions is out now through Relapse Records. Ough.

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