Review Summary: The closest some of us will get to heaven.
What happens after we die? Do the good amongst us reach a divine paradise where love is boundless, beauty is indescribable, and the grace of a higher power shines upon the saints of this world forevermore? Do the bad amongst us helplessly drown in a lake of fire and brimstone, screaming in ceaseless agony and misery for all eternity? Does God truly have the grounds to carry out such a sentence? What is it all for...? It seems that as human beings with basic autonomy, we are all cursed with an existence full of questions. Questions that will never be answered until Death himself beckons us forth, and we dive headfirst into oblivion to find out for ourselves what awaits us in years time. Quite fearful when you truly think about this inevitability, how overwhelming such a fate can be. Billions before us have all moved on to the other side, but what exactly is
on the other side? Perhaps, we are bound for an endless void of nothingness. We return to the same place we resided before birth, nothing. And for Philadelphia based shoegaze band Nothing, it appears as though they have also reached this existential crisis. Meeting at the crossroads with Maryland based grindcore band Full of Hell, these two outliers prove that opposites can indeed attract. Lush beauty meets horrible ugliness, a sound that is both devastating yet dynamic and beautiful. For these two bands, they have decided to jump into the void together to show that no matter how different we may be, we are all headed towards the same destiny. Whether it be nihilism or realism, Nothing and Full of Hell have embraced the grim side of the expiration of human existence. The clouds above hold no life, no divine beings, and this false heaven lies When No Birds Sang.
Nothing has been quite an interesting band since their inception, making waves in the underground with their first EP Downward Years to Come
in 2012. Whilst not particularly a huge splash or a commercial success, Downward
proved early on that Nothing was a unique shoegaze band full of untapped potential. A couple years passed, and history was ready to be made. Newly refined with the help of Kyle Kimball on drums, Brandon Setta on guitar, and Nick Bassett on bass/keys the band bursted onto the scene with their magnificent debut LP Guilty of Everything
in 2014. Nothing quickly established themselves as leaders of the modern shoegaze scene with their sonic pallette of lush, pretty guitar passages and melodic chord progressions wrapped in vocalist Domenic "Nicky" Palermo's ghostly, foreboding whispers that sound both haunting, yet strangely welcoming at the same time. Now, Nothing has never been just another reverb drenched shoegaze band mindlessly plodding along under the guise of vibes
where they unceremoniously blend in with all their contemporaries. No, instead of following in Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine's shadow, Nothing is a unique vessel of introspection and melancholy. Rough around the edges, profound, glorious, and even sometimes heavy as hell. The faux-punx introduction of lead single "Bent Nail" is a prime example with it's sharp, striking feedback and sour guitars. For the most part though, Nothing is a master class in dynamic songwriting and enjoyable hooks, no different on their sophomore act Tired of Tomorrow
and the unfortunately paper thin Dance on the Blacktop.
However, with the arrival of 2020 and the absolute full collapse of society as we know it, Nothing was behind the scenes quietly crafting the perfect soundtrack to our modern day dystopia. Presenting to our decaying world the band's magnum opus and modern classic, The Great Dismal.
An absolutely phenomenal record in every sense of the word, Domenic's genius is on full display with this masterpiece. Alongside new addition to the band, Cloakroom mastermind Doyle Martin adds a whole additional layer to Nothing's already established repertoire. With the help of good friend and producer Will Yip, The Great Dismal
is a captivating journey of the most introspective and magnificent proportions, seamlessly crafted together with not a single misstep both in songwriting and production. Nothing has certainly established themselves in the world of shoegaze, and they are back once again to make a statement. However, this time they are not alone.
On the other hand, we have a much different beast. A hideous, unforgiving, violent beast. Maryland's own Full of Hell is an uncompromising exercise in destruction. Spearheaded by vocalist and part-time goblin Dylan Walker, this band is no joke when it comes to anger and hatred in audio form. The blistering drumming of Dave Bland to the twisted, sadistic riffs of guitarist Spencer Hazard as well as Sam DiGristine's sludgy, pulsating bass all coalesce into a force of nature that is both powerful and even somewhat daunting. A consistent career across the board, Full of Hell has established themselves as a peerless cornerstone of modern grindcore and noise. From 2011's Roots of Earth are Consuming My Home
to 2021's Garden of Burning Apparitions,
the band has always brought an assault of full scale aggression and violence not for the faint of heart.
Now fast forward to the present, how could these two opposites possibly work together and make a cohesive project that makes sense? Well, despite their many differences both bands come from the same place of existential dread. “We’re bringing you to this edge of an empty void… you’re staring at the precipice of oblivion with us.” Dylan Walker boldly states the mission statement here, and with When No Birds Sang,
this talented group of gentlemen have met in the middle and somehow crafted another work of art. Produced by none other than everyone's favorite workhorse and apparent insomniac Will Putney, here begins our journey into the abyss.
Kicking things off with "Rose Tinted World" it appears as though Full of Hell wanted to take the reigns and snuff out any semblance of hope or positivity approaching this dive into oblivion. Apocalyptic and crushing, the opening track establishes the harrowing nature of the band and shows off what Full of Hell does best. A Tartarus, bleak and unending. The second half entrances with its eerie sampling of what sounds like news beats and weather reports, slowly building into a cacophony of incessant rambling and noise akin to an anxiety attack where the weight of every word spoken just rings through your ears like a brain eating parasite. Interestingly enough, following track and second single "Like Stars in the Firmament" gives the spotlight entirely to Nothing and their capabilities as a band. A drowsy, simplistic guitar riff builds into a wall of beautiful yet haunting soundscapes where Domenic's ghostly whispers allude to Death himself beckoning the unwilling. Ironically stating "I don't want to die..."
Nothing's music has always had a post-apocalyptic feeling to it, but with When No Birds Sang
the presentation seems even more grandiose and massive than ever before. "Stars" serves as what seems to be the somber aftermath of tragedy, hopeless and desolate. The sky is not as blue and comforting as the album cover portrays, our reality can be grey and depressing.
The album carries along with controlled chaos as both bands effortlessly mend their styles in a remarkable way. Together, they almost seem like completely different entities. An otherworldly mood and atmosphere, When No Birds Sang
will keep you locked in with its fascinating blend of ethereal shoegaze and bone crushing heaviness. Highly comprehensive and meticulously detailed, this monstrous behemoth will emotionally devastate even the most stoic of souls. The newly welcomed addition of ominous, wispy synthesizers on "Forever Well" and lead single "Spend the Grace" further elevate the album's sense of hopelessness and dread, almost taking a page out of Jesu's book before Dylan's harrowing shrieks swiftly annihilate any and all solace to be found. Until surprisingly, a brief respite of ambience in the form of "Wild Blue" takes hold and immerses the listener in waves of calm. "When No Birds Sang" reflects back on Nothing's ability to offer a reprise of comfort with its warm, ethereal guitars carried by Palermo's slightly vocoded pleads, building into a triumphant release of emotion that feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. Mesmerizing, though the ever impending anxiety and fear still looms over the listener's head as if everything can fall apart in the blink of an eye. A stark reminder of the fragility of the human spirit. Full of Hell and Nothing are no strangers to the human condition, as portrayed by the myriad of emotions presented here. Twisting and turning through a labyrinth of empty clouds, the birds once radiant and full of life have ceased their song. All that remains is an endless void. Barren, empty, dismal.
When No Birds Sang,
a metaphor for death itself and the silence that comes with it perhaps. The end of everything, brought to the world by two entities that somehow made it through the void together. Vastly different yet the same, ultimately what we humans are at our very core. No matter who you are, where you are, what you do, the end will find you one day. With this being known, be sure to hold your lover closer, tell your family how much they matter, and be the best person you can possibly be before that day arrives. For now, we are still breathing. We can still marvel in the beauty of life and music especially. So let us rejoice, and lend Full of Hell and Nothing our ears. The birds may have stopped singing, but the human spirit carries on. If not in body, our memories will live forever.