Maryland noisegrinders Full of Hell and Colorado sludge metal group Primitive Man take divergent approaches to a similar ethos. At their most potent and primal, each band explores the boundary at which metal becomes noise—vicious and searing walls of sonic abrasion that feel as if they could dissolve hair and fingernails. They scrape the bottom of the well of human suffering and spit that viscous venom back in the faces of those who’d voluntarily be the cause of it. The primary difference between them is in what setting they wield their firehose of human misery; with Full of Hell it’s brief and precise, and in the case of Primitive Man, it’s a slow and steady drenching.
Combine those two approaches, however, and what emerges is somehow even more harrowing and dense than any recording from either band would have already suggested. Which, on its own, already makes Suffocating Hallucination a worthwhile endeavor. The debut collaboration between Full of Hell and Primitive Man makes both bands’ intentions known from the first song; “Trepanation for Future Joys” is sheer annihilation at half speed. The song, ostensibly, has a melody, but it becomes so subsumed by feedback and distortion, thick and tar-like walls, that when you’re in the middle of it, it can be hard to make out some of the finer details. But like forms slowly coming into focus in a dark room as your eyes gradually adjust, that onslaught of sonic mayhem eventually takes stunning, terrifying shape.
Comprising four lengthy tracks and one interlude, Suffocating Hallucination is surprisingly diverse in its lines of attack, each piece essentially offering the two bands a clean slate at an extended purge. “Rubble Home” is the most accessible of the bunch, a lurching beast of a track that boasts the best honest-to-god riff of the bunch. Accessibility is relative here; there’s a kind of righteous triumph in the two bands’ hellacious march, but anyone with even a passing familiarity with either band knows, certainly, that they’re not within the same galaxy as, say, Motörhead. Which allows them the freedom to descend deeper into industrial and dark ambient abstraction in “Dwindling Will,” a mesmerizing piece whose eerie desolation is akin to running early Tangerine Dream through layers of overdrive.
The stunner of the bunch is the album’s 11-minute closer, “Tunnels to God,” wherein a warm and meditative opening drone slowly and gradually transforms into a piercing banshee’s screech. But it’s not until five minutes in that “Tunnels to God” achieves its full potential, seamlessly intertwining grief and menace, grace and brutality into an incredible whole, closing a relatively brief but slow-moving set of music with its most emotionally gripping climax.
Neither Full of Hell nor Primitive Man are strangers to sharing vinyl space with another band, the former a collaboratively prolific group, having worked with the likes of Merzbow, The Body and HEALTH, among others. What makes Suffocating Hallucination stand out even among each band’s own distinctive catalog, however, is the rich depth of sounds and textures they cover, even if the cumulative effect is one of varying forms discomfort—despair, rage, or tinnitus. It only takes a slightly deeper listen to find the grace within the noise.
Label: Closed Casket Activities
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.