Beyond the Lightless Sky, the second record by Brooklyn quintet Hull, is a big record by an ambitious band.
The songs stretch from complex, epic crunch-fests like the title track to "Fire Vein," a 10-minute integration of atmospheric space-rock drift and acoustic instrumentation. Two colossal sonic narratives—opener "Earth From Water" and closer "In Death, Truth"—bookend the hour-long Lightless Sky, enormous endpoints from a band out to make a statement.
For the band behind this behemoth, the record has been two years coming (unsurprising: most tracks are as complicated and unpredictable as a James Joyce novel). Guitarist and vocalist Nick Palmirotto calls the process "grueling," but, lucky for the listeners, it spawned a product that's every bit as difficult and demanding.
"With some bands, there's one kind of main leading member who writes the main foundation of the music and then there's the players," he explains. But that's not Hull, a band in which songwriting duties are shared democratically. The members, all from disparate musical backgrounds, take their work seriously and slowly, only releasing music they're fully satisfied with. "It's like five cooks in the kitchen."
What comes next may be even more ambitious. Hull wants to write a collaborative record with like-minded heavy bands Batillus, Ocoai, Amenra and North Carolina's own U.S. Christmas. Palmirotto stresses this is in the very early stages. After all, Hull is in the midst of its first cross-country tour, a sort of victory lap after two years of poring over Lightless Sky. If Palmirotto had his way, they'd spend nine months of the year on the road. But the high cost of living and competing musically in Brooklyn, he says, has made it hard to do more than 50 shows a year. "You have to survive, you have to pay your bills and you also have to compete with, you know, millions of other people that are out there trying to do the exact same thing," explains Palmirotto, who is also a mosaic artist.
But he says the band's paid its dues after nearly seven years in the city. He's ready to take Hull not only on the road long-term but also overseas, where he's toured with Jarboe. He filled in on bass for the ex-Swans vocalist during a 2010 tour. She returned the favor, chanting below pulsing tribal drums on Lightless Sky's hypnotic "Wake the Heavens, Reveal the Sun."
The complexity and scope of this sophomore album indicate a level of comfort within the band. These guys have been playing together more than six years, though no member is from the city itself. Long Island-raised guitarist Carmine Laietta V is the closest thing to a Brooklyn native, with others coming from as far as Jackson Hole, Wyo., or Salt Lake City. Palmirotto moved from Florida; he was a young idealist leaving the metal-friendly state to be a New York artist and musician. He grew up on bands like Asshole Parade and Torche and remains in touch with them. On this tour's West Palm Beach stop, Hull played with House of Lightning, a project fronted by Floor drummer Henry Wilson and including other members of Dove (all bands in Torche's immediate family tree).
But today, Palmirotto is in Hull's van. They're in the Southwest, 2,000 miles, give or take, from Brooklyn. The band's tour is as much a celebration of Lightless Sky's release as of friendship: The dudes, excepting Laietta, bonded with matching tuning fork tats. "If anyone's listening out there, I would definitely take payment in tattoos," Palmirotto laughs as the band drives through the desert, headed to the next date.