Hull rise above genre expectations on ‘Beyond the Lightless Sky’

The sludge and post-metal communities are crowded ones. Blame everyone geeking out on Neurosis and ISIS (or their fan-appointed associative term NeurISIS) if you’d like, but there’s just a ton of this stuff out there, and more often than not, the music isn’t terribly enlightening.

One of the bands that seemed to have a brighter light bulb than most is Brooklyn’s Hull, who debuted on initial, single-song EP “Viking Funeral” and their first full-length “Sole Lord,” released in 2009. While their first two entries didn’t exactly change the direction of the sub-genres or make them one of the first band names that popped out of people’s mouths when discussing sludge and post-metal, they made a positive impression and seemed to indicate that while they had some good ideas, they were going to be capable of much more down the road. Now that their second album “Beyond the Lightless Sky” is in our grasps, we have our answers as to whether they built on their potential.

This new entry from Hull is impressive, thoughtful, full-bodied and satisfying through and through, so yes, what I suspected when I heard “Sole Lord” is confirmed, in that the band had better days ahead. The nine-track record has an interesting structure that other bands have tried and failed to make compelling, in that they put together five epic cuts that are broken up by four wind-changing interludes. So you get mashed and then you get a breather. But the interludes aren’t just there to bloat the song count and stretch what could be an EP into an LP (1349 suffered that accusation on “Demonoir”), because they all play their parts really well and logically and sonically lead you into what’s next. I don’t think the record would be as seamless without these pieces in place.

Another change that I like is they used far less clean singing on “Beyond the Lightless Sky.” My only qualm with them using cleaner tones is theirs didn’t do them any favors. They always sounded like they were designed for a Linkin Park track and didn’t seem to make the songs any better. There still are moments on this album when they’re used, and they’re not any better than they were on “Sole Lord,” but they also don’t detract from my enjoyment of the songs. For the most part, guitarist Nick Palmirotto’s howls and growls are all over the place, giving a monstrous personality to these often spacious, psychedelic-minded songs, and the cleaner stuff makes up maybe 5 percent of the singing.

Things rip right open on “Earth from Water,” a song that runs more than 11 minutes and shape-shifts itself into atmospheric adventures, bluesy guitar licks and eventually destructive corrosion. The title track is a devastating piece of chaos that hulks and slithers over the land but eventually settles into a cool little thrash groove halfway through the cut that you never hear coming; “Fire Vein” blows open from the start, with monstrous growls, mind-bending guitar work and some of that wide-open outer space travel they do so well; and closer “In Death, Truth” is a burly beast that settles deep into the mud pits, with guitar screeching that recalls the early Soundgarden madness and that levels your senses in a calculating, mid-tempo pace. As noted these songs are set up by ambient cuts such as the Western-flavored, acoustic-led “Just a Trace of Early Dawn” and quiet, serene, nature-colored “Curling Winds.”

Yes, Hull’s music should satisfy those who have surrounded themselves by bands such as ISIS and Neurosis, the pioneers of this type of thing, and even those who get into early Mastodon and the more recent work by The Atlas Moth could find a ton of enjoyment in “Beyond the Lightless Sky.” This band clearly is not just satisfied with being your run-of-the-mill sludge and/or post-metal band, and they prove their ambition is beyond that rigid designation. This record is a very positive step forward for the band, and I hope their next album takes things ever further. This is a band that deserves your attention now and going forward, and my guess is they’re never going to deliver something you expect 100 percent. They do have the sludge/post-metal spine, and that’s important, but their willingness to bloom beyond is what should keep Hull special and relevant well into the future.

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