It’s been a while. Too long in fact. But what better album to dive back into it with than Hiss, the latest release from Singaporean grindcore band, Wormrot? This album might be the most progressive grind record I have ever heard. In fact, I hesitate to even call it grind because the only thing it has in common with most grind bands is the intensity. Wormrot flits through genres at skin-flapping speeds, the experience visceral, almost uncomfortable but exciting, like the moments before an intense psychedelic trip.
Thrash, hardcore, black metal, death metal, post-rock, shoegaze, metalcore, you name it. This album has it all. Twenty-one songs clocking in at just shy of 33 minutes, the shortest song being 10 seconds and the longest a monstrous 4:28. With the incredible amount of genre diversity and for the most part, short songs, Hiss feels like it sprints past you, and barely leaves enough time to catch your breath before hurtling into another deluge of chaos. The album reminds me of early Anaal Nathrakh, partially in sound but more in approach. By this, I’m referring to the chaotic way Hiss shifts between styles and textures rather than it sounding specifically like Anaal Nathrakh. While all the instrumentalists are technical wizards, the standout performance goes to the vocals. The diversity shown by vocalist Arif is tremendous from beautifully sung passages to chants and whispers, from growls, and squeals, to deep-throated shouts. His range is immense. I was saddened to hear of his recent departure from the band, citing familial commitments as the reason. Of course, props must also go to Rasyid and Vijesh who play guitars and drums, respectively. Along with the masterful display of their instruments, the writing on the album is impeccable. I have mentioned the use of many genres, but beyond those descriptors, the flow of Hiss as a whole and its textural shifts throughout are sublime.
Talking about texture, the album starts barely perceptible. Up until recently, I thought the album started with 30 seconds of silence but after turning up my speakers I realised it is the gentle sound of water lapping at some shoreline or pier. This links up neatly with the image on the album cover, which shows the face of what seems to be a woman up to her nose in water, with only her eyes showing. The cryptic nature of the image is intriguing. It is neither violent nor gruesome, as most bands of this nature indulge in aesthetically. To me, it seems creepy, almost sinister, as if the image is of a spirit or ghost of some nature. It could also be perceived as a human waiting for some unseen prey, or as someone in hiding, though something about the intensity of the eyes lends me to think otherwise.
When the music for “The Darkest Burden” kicks in at 30 seconds it hits you like a ten-tonne wet towel, nearly smothering you to death. The chords in this piece are spooky minor ones, harmonic minor perhaps, which lends the music a black metal aesthetic. The gravity blasts on the drums add to this feel. At 1:04 the chords stick but the rhythm sections switch to a tech-death feel. The vocals shift from shrieks to cookie monster growls before switching back briefly to close out the song. All this flies by in just over a minute, leaving you in a state of bewilderment, but get used to it because there is no respite as we fly into “Broken Maze”.
This track starts with a riff that I wouldn’t quite call death metal. In fact, it almost reminds me of 2000s nu-metal except with more unhinged vocals. At 16 seconds we get some unexpected clean guitar with a beautiful, soaring baritone vocal melody on top. Often metal musicians, particularly those in genres such as grind, will get criticised for lack of tonal musical elements, and with this short section, Wormrot shows us just how musical they can be. Every time I hear this section it lifts my soul. Don’t get too comfortable as we are immediately thrown back into blasts beats and tremolo picking, all punctuated by a classic ‘ugh’ from Arif. At 1:10 the feel of the music changes entirely, sounding like a thrash/crossover or hardcore track for the last 40 seconds.
This is a precursor to the thrash/hardcore feel that “Behind Closed Doors” starts with, but that once again shifts quickly to a death metal feel before 20 seconds have gone by. The song builds in texture and intensity before giving way to some Trey Azagthoth style soloing. After some accentuated hits, the song transitions into full-on thrash metal… for about 20 seconds before the track ends.
“When Talking Fails, It’s Time for Violence!” hits we are presented with a blackened-death mixture before launching into another classic thrash metal part just shy of the 30-second mark. I don’t think I have ever heard grind, death, or black metal bands incorporate thrash in this way into their music and it’s refreshing, giving the music an alluring progressive quality.
“Your Dystopian Hell” begins with a blackened-shoegaze aesthetic, one we haven’t encountered yet in this album. This is, as always, quickly broken up by blasts, shredded riffs, and wild screams. We get the return of some cookie monster growls over riffs that remind me of early Mortician. At 50 seconds the song opens up a bit, the drums playing a half-time groove over some faster hats. The vocals here give the music a metalcore feel. The punctuating riffs, accented over a strangely distorted layer. This could be a synth or sample of some sort, but it also could be a looped guitar part. The sound of the noise is unsettling and I love it.
“Unrecognisable” is the obligatory song the band has to put on the album, otherwise, their grind license is revoked. Ten seconds long with suitably violent lyrics. What else do I need to say?
Striking forward in “Hatred Transcending” we get more hardcore/thrash crossover-sounding riffs all bookended by brutal blasts and guttural exclamations. From about 1:05 the track gets weird. The drums drop out and the guitar starts to sound distant and trippy. The raspy vocals continue as the music churns into a confusing mess.
“Pale Moonlight” has an interesting start, beginning with only drums playing some polyrhythms. The sounds of timbale and shakers enter and the vocals take on a decidedly metalcore, post-hardcore feel. I love this track as it is just so different from anything else on the album, almost a palette cleanser, especially since it is roughly in the middle of the release.
“Voiceless Choir” has one of my favourite parts of all the tracks on this album. At around 34 seconds the guitars sustain distorted chords while the drummer plays a fast punk groove. The vocalist whispers before an epic melodic lead enters, culminating in beautiful harmonies. Of course, we break into blackened thrash shortly after followed by more traditional thrash/hardcore. The gang vocals in this track instantly make me think of Municipal Waste.
“Grieve” hits us with something unique, some strange, strangulated saxophone that wails like a spirit being pulled down to Hades. Shortly after we have some frenetic violin shredding over the noise layered with slower bowed parts. The resultant feeling is mystical, dark, and regal.
The final track I will mention is the final track on the album, “Glass Shards”. It is most notable because of the length, 4:28 seconds, which is unheard of from a grind band, but also notable because of the post-rock, shoe-gaze quality the track exudes from about 1:30 onward. The music becomes wistful and the unsettling violin returns, but also the beautifully bowed legato, which soars over the climax of drum rolls and strummed guitars, makes for a strikingly emotive ending to such a violent album. If I am left with only one word to sum up Hiss, I would go with a masterpiece.
This album has to be one of the best metal albums I have ever heard. While it is still decidedly a metal/grind release, it is so diverse and so progressive that it transcends the tag of grind and becomes something wholly unique.
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