Album Review: Wormrot – “Hiss” (Grindcore)

Written by Westin

> WormrotHiss
> Grindcore
> Singapore
> Released July 8, 2022

Water is life, soothing and serene, but it’s also a tempest ready to sweep away everything. Water is prominent in Wormrot’s newest album Hiss. The album cover, a woman submerged in water, is still – frozen in a moment of quiet, but it also carries a sense of danger. Does the danger lurk beneath or is it hidden somewhere ahead of her, off camera? Is she dangerous? This sense of duality is a strong marker throughout Hiss – you don’t know where the danger is coming from when the album opens with the smooth sounds of flowing water before blasting ahead on opener “The Darkest Burden”, full of blast beats and growls, including a great “ough” from frontman Arif. The following track “Broken Maze” plays with slower and more readable guitar work that feels more reminiscent of death metal than grindcore, and even features Arif’s clean singing, low and vibrant. Of course it still returns to the grind halfway through, rocketing forward with a punchy gallop.

Arif’s versatility as a vocalist must be commended – Hiss is full of a “what’s what” of vocal deliveries. There’s guttural gurgles, frantic screeching, the steady cleans, black metal barking and more I can’t effectively describe. Arif is a master of switchup, seamlessly swapping styles between scant tempo drops or chord changes. His ability to deliver so much variety, to alter the vox as necessary for each song, adds an incredible texture to each track that helps it feel more like an intentional song instead of a simple burst of noise.

If the death metal and clean singing surprise you, that’s simply the beginning; Hiss is a monumental step forward for the genre – it is as true to the ethos and core sound of grind as it possibly can be, but also incorporates so many new or underutilized ideas to expand what we can consider grindcore. While Wormrot know how to deliver the brain bashing that fans would expect, they also geniusly give room to breathe by slowing down. The readability of the guitars is unique, opening up songs that might otherwise be extremely dense.  If you listened to “When Talking Fails, It’s Time For Violence” you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d suddenly found yourself listening to an 80’s crossover band with its mosher riff and gang vocals.

Like tidal forces ebbing and flowing, Wormrot shift effortlessly between vintage and modern, between accessible, effective simplicity and walls of cacophony that threaten to drown you. There are whirlpools of pure grindcore throughout the album, like the aptly named “Unrecognizable”, or “Shattered Faith”. These act as the anchoring point upon which all of the other musical elements are built, grounding Hiss definitively in grind, so that as we drift further out we still get flashes of these moments to remind us of the core of the band. The death metal adjacent tracks are a welcome reprieve from what could be an overwhelming amount of noise that create groove and rhythm, fresh when executed well as on “Seizures”. However, sometimes these breaks can feel like they lack an identity or purpose, some songs feeling extraneous or like they were simply too similar to others without adding enough on their own or being tight enough to simply stand strong.

The greatest achievement of Hiss is the foray into avant-grind, new territory and ideas. In looking forward, much of the second half of the album utilizes very bright guitar tones from guitarist Rasyid, that remind me strongly of Gridlink’s Longhena, and they evoke strongly an emotional tone that I wouldn’t have expected. “Voiceless Choir”, “Desolate Landscapes” and “Weeping Willow” carry a stinging pain that sings in the brightness of the guitar melodies, belying Arif’s frantic screeches and the pounding drums. The bright melody feels almost harmfully decadent and wrought, drenching everything in neon anguish.

From the band on FB about the above music video: “Combining three songs to tell a single continuous story, this trilogy portrays an unnamed protagonist (played by Tia, who’s just a natural bad ass!) exacting vengeance on the corrupt cops (played by us) who plotted the murder of her lover. We pay tribute to ’70s Japanese crime movies and two of Singapore’s own TV series ‘Triple 9’ and ‘Crimewatch’ which we grew up watching.”

We’re further gifted additional violin from guest string player Myra Choo, who mixes flawlessly with the band to wring out absolute pain on the songs she touches. “Grieve” is a sharp instrumental track that begins with what sounds like a violin being murdered followed by sonic mourning of tragedy. Hiss reaches a zenith on closer “Glass Shards” – here every element that Wormrot have touched on the album coalesces into a long-for-grindcore four and a half minute epic that revisits the previous accessible motifs before cutting away to agonized guitars that lead into an absolutely stunning violin solo, ascendant and spiraling away from the agony of life, bleeding into the music, screaming “I don’t belong here/I never wanted to be here”, and returning to the bubbling wash of waves that we began with.

It was announced before Hiss’s release that Arif, who founded the band, and his wife/band manager Azean, were both leaving Wormrot after 15 years. For them, the project was done, and all of the turmoil that is carried in that decision can be heard on Hiss. As it stands, no one knows what the future holds for Wormrot, if it even has a future or if this is the final cry of one of modern grindcore’s most beloved projects. Either way, Hiss stands tall as a new landmark in the ecosystem of extreme music, an emotional and musical triumph that brilliantly, beautifully transcends narrow genre definitions and ideas to reach something unseen, waiting to be washed away with the tide.

The Bottom Line

This new grindcore landmark is a testament to the strength of Wormrot’s musical mastery. Six years after their previous album, they have lost no momentum or creative excitement. They deliver enjoyably on expectations and drag you along to places you didn’t know you wanted to go. If you’re a fan of other extreme metal but new to grindcore, if you’re looking for something to shake up the standards of the genre, give Hiss a listen.