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Behind the Cover: Full of Hell — Coagulated Bliss

With madness through the arts introducing their latest feat, the multi-faceted ensemble hit culminating heights.

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Artwork by Brian Montuori

Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):

On April 26th, Full Of Hell released Coagulated Bliss via Closed Casket Activities, continuing a trajectory celebrated for its breadth and lack of conformity. It's abrasive and downright uncompromising from the very beginning, but as one has come to learn, Full of Hell don't stop at compositional excellence. Their music exists beyond its means, and for Coagulated Bliss, LA-based artist extraordinaire, Brian Montuori, defined tantalizing for a standout visual.

Frontman Dylan Walker took some time mid-tour to check-in and talk all things Coagulated Bliss — a staggering release that never ceases to settle — while the multi-faceted Brian Montuori provided great insight on the sprawling piece that calls this album home.

For those new to what exists within the art of Brian Montuori, an uncomfortably rewarding listen awaits, which extends to the live setting. There's a constant shift taking place with each passing track and there's much to take from having one's material evolve in real time while audiences form their own perceptions. "Playing tracks live over the years and watching them evolve is always rewarding," says Walker. "You gain an advanced kind of synergy with your band mates and the songs do tend to fold into something different as they're played repeatedly. It's an interesting experience for me specifically, because the performance of the lyrics becomes more of a muscle memory than a conscious recitation. There are certain tracks where I tend to change the lyrics up a little bit as time goes on, more for my own satisfaction than anything else."

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Dylan Walker, Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

Songs become living, breathing beasts on the road, ever changing at the result of the physicality and creative interests of the musician playing it. For a workhorse like Full of Hell that tours and records on a consistent basis, adjustments are expected, if not required. Walker's piercing screams and required stage momentum are taxing as a reflection of the lyricism that goes invested within the composition. So much goes into the recording and its performance, resulting in an element of catharsis or perhaps momentary satisfaction being felt after seeing how well Coagulated Bliss and its predecessors have traveled across the globe. Walker adds, "It's definitely momentary. I attribute this more to the fickle nature of our human minds rather than the work ethic of the band, though. There's always a moment where you feel some shining accomplishment, especially with Full of Hell over the years, it's been so rewarding, but the laurels fade quickly. I find that it's hard to keep that novel feeling of accomplishment alive. This rings true outside of the band as well, I think in general our minds tend to seek stasis, so even glowing accomplishment tends to fade fast. So it goes!"

Though the desire for undiscovered territory remains, it's hard not to argue that Coagulated Bliss is a culminating act, or at least a very high point in the band's celebrated discography. "It feels like the start of a new book for me," says Walker. "It's exciting and seems to be the origin point for a whole slew of future efforts." From beginning to end, the album finds Full of Hell at their best, sonically refined and expansive in their inclusion of a wide array of influence. It's crisp, it's vibrant, and more importantly, it further showcases the breadth at which the ensemble can operate this far into their catalog without compromising or settling into a comfortable area. However, for as much as one could dissect Full of Hell's longevity or astronomical growth, Walker makes a great point: "In the end though, whether it's the culminating act or the first of a new production entirely is probably irrelevant."

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Full of Hell, Photograph by Katie Lewellyn

Moving beyond the sound, it's only right that the visual identity of the record reflect the shape-shifting insanity that it represents, and for Coagulated Bliss, Full of Hell enlisted the talented and long-time friend of the band Brian Montuori. The partnership with Montuori marks a transition from Mark McCoy, who was responsible for a trilogy of notable covers including Trumpeting Ecstasy (2017), Weeping Choir (2018), and Garden Of Burning Apparitions (2021). All of the aforementioned albums utilize and black and white color palette while Montuori's strays far from the norm with a wide ranging piece that instead maximizes every inch of space afforded to it. After so many albums in, the change is welcome and fitting to the band's contemporary headspace. "It was simply time for something new," elaborates Walker. "It's easy to speak about intentionality and long planning, but as I get older I realize more and more that you just need to meet the road as it comes. We didn't intend to be so prolific with our collaborations and albums, we didn't intend to do so many records with McCoy, we didn't intend for 'Trumpeting/Weeping/Garden' to be a trilogy at first, etc. etc. My goal now is to listen and to find the right step as we go while keeping the overall arc in mind."

Coagulated Bliss was simply a result of its circumstances, a result of a longstanding camaraderie between the band members themselves and a longstanding friendship with an artist keen on bringing the turbulence to life. Working with McCoy for several consecutive albums and shifting to a new partner breaks an artistic continuity with certain predetermined expectations, but in turn delivers something unique to anything in the band’s discography. With a new audiovisual partnership brewing, a common ground in terms of visual direction had to be found and both parties found it seamless and free-flowing. "If I had to sum up the entire experience in one word, I’d say it was nothing less than bliss-ful," says Montuori.

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Brian Montuori In-Studio With "Coagulated Bliss" (2024)

Walker continues, "It was honestly really easy on our end. Like I said, we knew Brian's body of work really well, and he's been a good friend for many years now. He was very familiar with us as human beings, and even familiar with the areas we grew up in, which became central to the album's themes. We'd discussed the possibility of working together for a long time, but it just hadn't been the right moment. Working with McCoy was so productive and inspiring, and that needed to be plumbed thoroughly."

Strong foundations, whether they be creatively speaking or interpersonal, yield strong results and Coagulated Bliss became that much more engaging and grander in scale because of it. There's mutual understanding and one can build off of one another's ideas without the fear of friction that could otherwise occur while working with a new artist/band. There's an element of trust that allows general ideas to flourish through a varied interpretation of concepts. Said trust allows an artist breathing room to filter a band's ambitions through a unique lens respective to their talents, as Montuori does here. When approaching Montuori for the project, Walker wasn't interested in having him deviate from his expertise or experiment with artistic elements out of his norm. "We always tend to seek out artists for what they already do naturally, rather than what we want them to do. The best case scenario is to simply put the pieces that we have to offer in front of the artist and let them do their thing."

Walker continues, "We felt it was time to move into a world of lurid color. We'd completed a trilogy with Mark that couldn't have been better and it was just time for a sharp turn. Brian has been a friend for a long time now and was uniquely positioned in a way where he was able to understand where the band came from and what needed to be included."

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"Coagulated Bliss" Full Cover Artwork by Brian Montuori

As seen above, Montuori took the reins and mastered the assignment at hand, crafting a wondrous piece riddled with detail. Upon being presented with the album’s parameters, or lack thereof, he looked to creative direction from his own standpoint, building upon conversations had with the band and his interpretation of a forgotten rural America. "At the beginning of the songwriting process, I was talking with Dylan and simply suggested that the rural, forgotten America they all lived in had many qualities that were arguably darker and scarier than anything that could be conjured up in any fictional demon-filled realm in his head," he mentions. "The band made the decision to write an album about their everyday lives and the bizarre things they encountered in them. I live in Los Angeles, so I had no visual reference of where they live to work with, so I asked them to take some photos and Spencer sent me a handful of pics of Dave’s family’s property with all these completely wild outsider art sculptures of brick and mortar and paint that I found out his grandfather made. It solidified the foundation of what I’d be using to create the album artwork. They’re figurative works, but I saw them as a kind of gateway between the mental states of feeling safe in the company and bond of family and the big bad wolf of the outside world blowing the house in."

Montuori's commentary isn't immediately grasped, encouraging viewers to look a bit harder, form connections, and of course, get lost in the experience of it all. Digitized faces of anguish, pine trees amidst the beauty of a sunset sky, and an exploding bird shining a light beam at the center of a roadway are but a few of the many visual nods to the lyricism and album themes present throughout. With how boundless and surreal it all comes forth to be, it's evident that this was this was a freeing an experience as one could assume. Beyond the cover itself, there’s additional imagery and all of it is truly perplexing and fitting to the album it represents. However, much like a riddle, it's only overwhelming at a surface level and becomes clearer once the pieces start to fit. Montuori comments, "It doesn’t seem all that perplexing if you have all the information. I don’t mean to say that as a slight to the viewer or anything, but there’s information about the band’s families and life situations in there and I felt the stories were important to share, but I didn't feel it was my place to do that."

It bridges heart-wrenching moments with neat nods of joy to complete a total maelstrom of emotions. He adds, "I went with a more surrealist method of rendering these paintings to distort the info a bit and that allowed me to explode the colors and collapse the feeling of reality. There’s heavy things in there about Dave’s father passing away, but then the 2 dogs in the layout are Dylan’s corgis, Panda & Ralph, so there’s fun things in there as well. That’s what they made musically for this record, so I felt it was important the visuals mirrored that. It’s brutal and pummeling, but it makes you want to shake your ass a bit too."

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Photograph by Zachary Jones

As Montuori mentions, the album consists of distinct elements that coalesce into one multi-faceted being. The cover is no different, and therein lies a great intersection between both both art forms that is immediate upon first glance and first listen. Referring back to Walker's comments on the album (and the band) simply adapting to where they are, Montuori's involvement was an act waiting to happen. It was simply inevitable, and Coagulated Bliss became the perfect entry point for his artwork to serve its purpose here. "I think I happen to fit into where the band is at this stage," adds Montuori. "I’ve known them since 2013, so I’ve been in the picture with them personally before Mark McCoy started their album artwork. They made music that he made perfect visuals for, and that laid the foundation for the reaction to my colorful album cover through the long repetition of their consistently solemn, monotone collaborations. I hope we make a few beautiful records together and then they can move onto a new artist who is appropriate for where they end up next creatively."

Will we get another trilogy, one illustrated by Montuori? Time will tell, but for now, there's much to uncover here with the treasure trove of detail that is Coagulated Bliss — a gift that keeps on giving. It fueled so much that there were three versions of the cover, three different directions it could’ve gone in addition to all the supplemental imagery that was created for the gatefold release. Montuori himself had no choice but to tap into the flow of it all and maximize his time in that headspace to create and intertwine multiple pieces, some of which the band themselves have yet to see. "The previous 2 versions were absorbed into the final version, so that work doesn’t exist anymore aside from a few photos in my camera roll from last summer. There’s more work that hasn’t been revealed yet, I had too much fun making this stuff and kept going with it after the deadlines and even Full of Hell hasn’t seen all of it just yet."

He spent about 6 months painting for this release, in a studio space, free from limitations and only a loose prompt to build upon. It’s a large canvas piece reflective of his own personal creative ambitions through the filter of Full of Hell. One would assume there's an element of catharsis involved with having to sit on a piece for so long and now seeing it on shelves, on shirts, and being engaged by audiences around the world after having invested so much of his personal being into it. Montuori reflects on the experience, "It’s cool to see. It feels completely different because the sizes and formats are so diametrically opposed to one another in regards to the original painting vs the album reproduction of it. I’m always afraid of making something square for a record because I tend to work larger and I don’t want to feel like I’m seeing a comic book version of something I’ve made if it’s simply shrunk down to 12 inches. This was mostly horizontal work that required the band to engage with it and decide what was to be featured and how. It’s fun to have a back and forth with them creatively and we’re in a great position right now that's not at the beginning or at the end of anything and still feels open-ended despite the perceived finality of the album being released into the public. Regardless of the profound, enriching, collaborative experience of bringing an album to life from an initial idea to a final product, this was all a scam I concocted to use Full of Hell as a means to Trojan Horse my artwork into the homes of unsuspecting extreme music fans and it totally worked. I made millions. I'm giving up art entirely and going all in on crypto and hawking my herbal supplement line until they write another album."

The enthusiasm in his responses is reflective of the quality of work that was presented through the album. He's done a variety of covers and music related projects in the past, but none quite like Coagulated Bliss (in my opinion). Being entrusted to meet the creative needs of Full of Hell rather than his own in such an unreal way presents many takeaways, such as seeing how so many new faces engage with the material. "It’s been wonderful to see the reaction from their fans. It’s been a largely positive response to the cover and I’m not sure if it’s the imagery itself, or the shock of color for a band whose identity has been so closely linked to black & white visuals. Either way, the primary direction they gave me for the artwork was to just be me, and I turned in a few earlier versions and I was told I wasn’t being “me” enough. The final version of the artwork was a version of what I do that was cheered along by the band reminding me to do what I do for me and not what I’d think they’d want me to do for them, if that makes any sense. I’m rarely given limitations once a layout idea I’ve pitched has been given a thumbs up and even in light of that, this was a wonderfully refreshing experience."

Montuori's achievements on the album are met by a Full of Hell equally as satisfied, but never content. They’ve come a hell of a long way from Roots of Earth Are Consuming My Home (2011) and in the many years between then and now, much has happened. Introspectively, when asked where this album finds the band as people, Dylan concludes, "I think it finds us remarkably close to 'Roots of Earth' in spirit, if I'm being honest. We've been through so much in the decade plus since we made that first record, and it feels very organic and honest that there are clear thru lines and threads connecting back to those early days. Everyone is in the zone and enjoying the privilege of still being here and the ability to make albums that people want to consume. Honest art is all that you can really hope to make."


Coagulated Bliss is available now via Closed Casket Activities (Listen).

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Cover Artwork by Brian Montuori


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