Thursday 19 January 2023

Wormrot - Hiss (2022)

Country: Singapore
Style: Grindcore
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 8 Jul 2022
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Singaporean grindcore sounds exactly like the sort of thing I review here at Apocalypse Later but a lot of the mainstream press ignores. However, Wormrot have been press darlings for years and this fourth album has been consistently acclaimed as their masterpiece, as well as a swansong for vocalist Arif, a founder member, who left the band after fifteen years behind the mike. They get a lot of coverage and Hiss made at least five best of lists for 2022, as many as Amorphis, Rammstein and Meshuggah.

And I can see why because this is surely the most versatile grindcore album I've ever heard, much of that due to the sheer range of Arif, making his position in the band a particularly tough one to fill. Sure, there's a ten second blitzkrieg song here that does exactly what you expect and nothing more. This one's called Unrecognizable and it's just there, as the nineteen second Shattered Faith is just there later on the album. These aren't anything new and there are precise equivalents on every other grindcore album. The good news is that that's less than half a minute of time wasted, while they get on with the interesting stuff. And there's a lot of that.

In fact, there's so much variety on offer that it'll be hard to cover all of it. Yes, most of these songs are short. Twenty-one of them take up only thirty-three minutes, though the closer, Glass Shards, is an almost unimaginable four and a half minutes all on its own. That's an intro in prog rock but it seems like a sprawling epic in grindcore and the violin of Myra Choo is a standout element, mixing so well with the guitars of Raysid. Yes, most of these songs are fast, with Hatred Transcending the one that screams along so fast it's like Wormrot are riding a lightning bolt, but Pale Moonlight is slow and tribal and All Will Wither is slower still, Arif's snarling calmly over a slow beat, with zero input from guitars, just shimmering cymbals approximating feedback.

But let's talk about Arif, because he's the first reason for this to be so versatile. He pulls out high shrieks and low growls on the opener, The Darkest Burden. Then he adds a surprisingly rich clean voice to Broken Maze, almost like I'd expect to hear from Bucovina. For Behind Closed Doors, he's off into another genre, with old school chanted hardcore vocals before everything went shouty. In When Talking Fails, It's Time for Violence, he shifts again with an anarcho-punk singalong chorus. And that's jut the first four songs, which rack up about six and a half minutes between them.

Guitarist Raysid, now the only founder member left in the band, covers a lot of ground too. He can play incredibly fast, as you'd expect for grindcore, but often he lets Vijesh, who is an insanely tight drummer, run loose and doesn't even attempt to match him, playing much slower riffs in front and sometimes even just power chords. Regardless of how fast Vijesh is blurring, Raysid plays riffs on Behind Closed Doors that wouldn't feel out of place on the Metallica debut, which was really just Diamond Head a little faster.

My favourite songs come late on the album, when he's playing a highly melodic guitar behind Arif. Desolate Landscapes and Vicious Circle both almost sound like two different songs behind played in the same studio at the same time and they sound wonderful. This harmonic work is also there a little earlier on Voiceless Choir, which even adds some divvying up of lyrics that old school hip hop artists used to do. At the other extreme, there's experimental dissonance on Your Dystopian Hell and Hatred Transcending. Nobody here wants to just do the one thing that's always done and I'm unable to conjure up a better approach to take to any genre.

And, talking of things that just aren't done, there's that violin. Whoever came up with the bright idea to add a violin to a grindcore album deserves a prize. Myra Choo isn't omnipresent, like she'd be in a folk metal band, but, whenever she turns up, the music finds a whole new level that's unlike anything I've heard before. Grieve, in particular, is searing. It's a sub-two minute instrumental and it almost finds its way into industrial, because Choo isn't interested in playing sweet on this one. It starts out sounding like the band are in a factory, cutting sheet metal with a chainsaw. Then Choo speeds up and it's fascinating.

She plays much sweeter on Glass Shards, delivering an excellent solo, letting Raysid follow suit on guitar and then combining with him to even greater effect. I assume she's just here as a guest and that may or may not be a one time thing, but I hope she works with Wormrot more and whoever in the Singaporean extreme metal scene might be open to diversifying their sound. I caught a violin moment here and there, on Sea of Disease and Noxious Cloud and especially Weeping Willow, but sometimes so fleeting that I wondered if I was just adding her in my imagination.

All of which adds up to this not being your typical grindcore album, but still delivering the goods in every way that grindcore fans would expect. It's a groundbreaking album. If there's a catch here, it has to be that the few traditional songs suddenly seem like filler because so much else has moved on to new and vibrant territory. And that's the only reason I'm going with an 8/10 instead of a 9/10.

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