If anybody asks you which record of 2023 has the starkest contrast between absolutely disgustingly dark and heavenly high, then your answer should probably be When No Birds Sang the collaboration record between Full of Hell and Nothing. Mind you, this is a collaborative effort, not a split release. Which might explain why parts of the record sound like The Album Leaf or even Sigur Rós? The record starts with one of the strongest songs of the year ”Rose Tinted World” which combines the two aforementioned extremes perfectly. On the one hand, we have big, chunky, dissonance-based riffs that could also been perfectly in place on records like Rudiments of Mutilation or Trumpeting Ecstasy by the Extreme Sludge-sters Full of Hell. The whole thing is harsh Sludge clad in even darker Noise and decorated with the screams between guttural growling and Grindcore-shouting. The song then ebbs away into a wall of sound that would easily be identifiable as Nothing’s contribution to the track, but no one really knows with these multi-faceted guys on both ends. This segment is adorned with vocal samples that seem to be more like a part of the whole meandering soundscape rather than meant as clearly distinguishable fore-front vocals. When the end oscillates into a bit of Shoegaze-frenzy it becomes clear that we should not expect anything from this record in the sense of regular structures which follow the normal rules of songwriting. Not for single songs nor for longer passages spanning several tracks. ”Like Stars in the Firmament” is a peaceful soothing trance in bright sparks and clear tunes, whispered vocals lead us across honeydew-meadows and we can enjoy the slow-motion sunshine – will this be the whole rest of record, all remaining five songs? Well, of course not, even if becomes clearer that this Codeine-like bit of Slowcore or Sigur Ró-sian Ambient Post-Rock is surely one major ingredient for When No Birds Sang. ”Forever Well”, the third track shows that there is not only wonderful highs and dark lows on this record, but that there can also be tracks right in the middle of it, tracks combining both and thus balancing the whole thing. And to point it out – the brute force in the tracks is surely not only an idea by the Full of Hell guys, because there are also some very strong outbursts on the records by PA-based Shoegaze-phenom Nothing. Hence, it is impossible and thus obsolete to say or find out who did here – also because there are moments that could fit both bands, for example the Ambient track ”Wild Blue” which is a wonderful break from any of the wild elements above. The record by and large is a very introspective one, even though there are several eruptive and even dissonant parts, but more often than not it feels as if we are listening to a bunch of hermits who are trying to find their exorcism in beauty, not in pain. They are sitting in a circle and share their pains and needs and that can sometimes turn into one of the nicest Sigur Rós tracks that the Iceland innovators have never done – the title track is so close to the tracks off of their breakthrough record Ágætis Byrjun that one might wonder if they are Nothing and Full of Hell are covering an obscure b-side one has not heard of before. When the final track, ”Spend the Grace” starts with something like an out-of-tune flute and we hear the repetitive guitar beats in the background then we are already wrapped up in a warm shawl we would rather crawl deeper into than ever dip our heads out of. Even the slightly foreboding bass line cannot change that and when drums and slow-tempo riff kick in we feel confirmed. These are fellow melancholics who might need to scream more often than we ourselves need to, but their needs are similar and they share them among themselves, with each other and, most importantly, they share them with us. If you still need to shake up your AOTY a bit, please consider this one a strong reason to do so. Wonderfully diverse. Remarkably coherent.
- Shoegaze Ambient