The Body & Full of Hell Ascend a Mountain of Heavy Light
In which music dies its umpteenth death.
The first collaborative effort by The Body and Full of Hell, released only last year, saw the two acts combine their respective brands of noise-riddled extreme metal to create a truly unsettling experience. While noticeably rooted in grind, sludge, and certainly noise, the album as a whole was not exactly easy to classify – perhaps not surprising given that the participants routinely operate in somewhat experimental spheres. Accordingly, anything seemed possible when the bands announced a second joint effort. All I knew was that I could expect it to get wonderfully weird. I was not quite prepared for them to disassemble my favourite art form so thoroughly, but I must admit that this was probably the logical next step for them.
Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light takes the listener to a place where music has seemingly been destroyed and there is only rubble left to work with. Our protagonists are scrambling through the debris, collecting broken artifacts and trying to assemble them into something approaching a whole by cobbling them together with what they themselves are capable of producing. Opener “Light Penetrates” illustrates this notion by starting out with a distorted remnant of what might have been a melody once, accompanied by drumming that, while reminiscent of perhaps a flashy jazz drum solo, is here removed from any context, like a sample that was found and put in the song at random. A terrifying shriek soon signifies what might otherwise be considered the start of the song proper, yet the elements it introduces never really come together. Single guitar chords drone forlornly as if unsure what exactly they’re supposed to contribute. A garbled vocal sample finds its way into the mix, but seems almost as out of place as the janky, squeaky saxophone that joins in shortly afterwards. It is at this point that the song starts to really fall apart. None of its elements on their own made for any sort of cohesive structure, but mashed together like this, the resulting construct was able to stand on its own for a while and give off some semblance of what music might have been back when it existed.
Second track “Earth is a Cage” kicks things off with an upbeat techno rhythm that seems like it could provide a good backbone for a song. After what we just heard, this is a little bewildering; where did this come from? How did it survive the cataclysm? Our protagonists are equally nonplussed and promptly try to swat it away with a swath of grinding, pummeling noise. When it comes back up for air, miraculously not dead yet, the beating continues, this time with more measured blows. Still, the rhythm persists, and after some reverb-laden vocal exercises, the assault continues. On the whole, the track does kind of adhere to the beat even when it’s drowned out, but it is a begrudging cooperation. It’s as if this rhythmic element is unwanted, an intruding reminder of simpler times that must be eradicated. What was once familiar and accessible to everybody now appears alien, out of place, an outside influence barely reconcilable with what is considered the norm.
Eventually freed of this intrusion, the artists go back to assembling collages in an attempt to recreate something akin to music. And dense collages they are – again the attempt to create cohesion by piling on as many disparate elements as possible. Droning noises (“Our Love…”) or repetitive, mechanic sample snippets (“The King Laid Bare”) provide disjointed bases for the songs. Unintelligible guitars contribute nothing whatsoever that could be considered a riff. Often arrhythmic drumming, resembling that free jazz style we heard in the first song, tumbles through the mix. Vocals bellow and shriek seemingly at random. Working with whatever they came across on their raids, the artists build these rickety, makeshift structures that barely hold together at the seams and are only kept upright by force of will and their creator’s need to express something. For there is something still to express; the apocalypse has not changed that. There is anguish, despair, and hate, and there is perhaps frustration at the inability to construct vehicles better fit to hold the amount of emotion poured into them. Yet their ramshackle nature makes the intent come through all the more clearly. It is this stretch of the album, songs three to five, where the post-music apocalypse is painted most vividly.
All the more unexpected, then, that “Master’s Story” puts us face to face with another one of those upbeat rhythm sections (all drama aside, when that bouncy snare comes in, I can’t help but smirk). This time, its outlandish nature is further underlined by its juxtaposition with vitriolic vocals and distant, droning guitars. At this point in the album, this artifact of what we had believed to be dead seems weird even to us; as it keeps doing its thing in the background, the clap it employs almost becomes jarring, such an unfamiliar object in what, by now, has become the norm for us, too. We are almost relieved, then, when the song abruptly changes to a sludgy crawl accompanied by vicious screaming. This is much more along the lines of what was expected and therefore kind of comforting. However, that beat sneaks back in, and now what’s weird is how not weird it sounds. This time around, the presence of the rhythmic element is tolerated. The alien and the familiar enter a relationship, working together instead of against each other, and the resulting construct is better off for it. The fact that such a development is possible in the context of this musical dystopia might spark what passes for hope here.
“Farewell, Man” seems to support this narrative, being perhaps the most conventional song on the album and the closest approximation of its apparent goal. Of course it’s not an uplifting tune by any means, but with guitars and drums following a pretty coherent pattern and the vocals being less random, someone from the old world might just consider this music. The artists draw heavily on their respective genres, sludge and grind, thus demonstrating, as in the previous song, a reconciliation with what used to be familiar. This begs the question if such a reconciliation was not perhaps possible all along, if perhaps the artists’ seclusion from the musical landscape was not actually a necessity. Perhaps the musical apocalypse we’ve been made to believe in was a hoax? Or perhaps these men have deluded themselves into thinking that nothing exists out there anymore? With the closer “I Did Not Want to Love You So”, we dare to venture outside to see for ourselves… and we find a wasteland. Nothing exists out here. We stumble on anyways, slowly leaving behind the din coming from the artists’ refuge. In the light of the baking sun, we sink to our knees on the barren ground, futilely beating the rocks in hopes of making something spring up. Maybe a melody. Just a few notes. Nothing happens. The Body and Full of Hell were right. Music is dead.
For painting this engrossing picture of the musical end times in my mind, this record deserves at least