Shortly after the completion and announcement of the release of Hiss, Wormrot's fourth album, it was revealed that original member Arif Suhaimi was relinquishing his position as vocalist and frontman. Pouring salt into that open wound was the fact that Suhaimi's partner and band manager, Azean was also handing in her walking papers. Having one of modern grindcore's most diverse vocalists and the person who's helped the band navigate the treacherous waters behind the scenes — including when language barriers were larger barriers — since the band first started making waves in the west back in the late '00s yank their spark plugs from the engine is debilitating enough. That this coincides with Wormrot having just issued their finest work is, initially anyway, like a dagger to the heart and spine.
Hiss follows six years of life-changes (Arif and Azean are now parents), vocal chord damage/changes, label frustrations and two years of viruses and world governments collaboratively trying to fuck us. And over the course of 21 tracks, Arif, guitarist Rasyid Juraimi and drummer Vijesh Ghariwala spit forth the frustrations, triumphs, discoveries, defeats, good and bad experiences one might expect during tumultuous times. The trick here that sways victory in Wormrot's favor is that instead of strictly and solely staying in the lane the band paved with 2009's Abuse, 2011's Dirge and 2016's Voices, they have embraced and absorbed the breadth of life's trials, tribulations and influential spices in the pursuit, and offering, of excellence.
Before anyone goes jumping to conclusions, and screaming "sell-out!" at the top of their misinformed lungs, rest assured that Hiss is still an album rife with short, fast songs in the tradition of all your bass-less grind and power violence favorites. However, what Wormrot have done is expand their palate in the same way Pig Destroyer have over the past handful of years, except without the luxury of a traditional lineup to fill in the gaps. Not that there are gaps when it comes to the intensity of bangers like album opener "The Darkest Burden" (which mines classic rock sensibilities and riffage at a couple hundred miles an hour), "Your Dystopian Hell" (which adds Voivod discord to grind and noisecore madness), "Doomsayer" (which fires off at twice the speed with half the distortion) and "Unrecognisable" (your standard blink-and-you'll-miss it grinder).
On another side of the coin, "Broken Maze" mixes in thrashier tempos with vocals that surprisingly range from Barney Greenway bellowing on one end to Burton C. Bell crooning on the other. "Behind Closed Doors" is the shaky suspension bridge between hoarse, Despise You-esque power violence bluntness and Hayaino Daisuki's melodic, rainbow-coloured speed metal. "When Talking Fails, It's Time For Violence" injects CBGB hardcore matinee stomp and curled lip, garage rock screech into an oppressive, but catchy, sonic pummeling and "Seizures" is strangely reminiscent of a grindcore makeover of classic Metallica chugging out on Killing Joke's "The Wake."
Furthermore, "Voiceless Choir" and "Noxious Cloud" variously collapses rapid-fire speed into a Nuclear Assault/Anthrax-style mosh 'n' gang vocal pile on before the spacious blackened doom of "All Will Wither" pushes the irreverence envelope for 68 seconds. The experiments go further afield with "Grieve," "Pale Moonlight" and "Weeping Willow," all songs with definite extremity vibes ranging from a rhythmic tribal pulse a la Swans and the unholy screech that guided Naked City's post-Radio free-form approach to avant-garde soundscapes, complete with violin wailing and sawing in dissonant union.
"Glass Shards" is definitely Hiss' stand out centrepiece, despite its placement in the sequence, as it wraps up the album with a spate of Assück/His Hero is Gone riffing and melodic spates nabbed from the school of oddball Japanese hardcore all meeting up with black metal and violin solos seeking love on the Hallmark channel.
In keeping with the short song ethos, Hiss doesn't see Wormrot digging their heels too deeply into their newfound interests. The album may take a number of steps towards and into left field, but nothing is done with the sort of pretentious extravagance that leads to clock watching or should alienate those wanting to hear the band tear skin from bone as they do in "Shattered Faith" and "Desolate Landscapes," though the latter employs a decidedly bright chord voicing in the delivery of rare slabs of what we can best describe as 'major key dissonance,' as peculiar as that may sound. And there's the brass tackin' conclusion: The roots and basis of Hiss remain in grindcore, but any of the variability added gets twisted and morphed for the cause and in the band's favor. Wormrot shape other genres around grind for their purposes and to their advantage. The result is a high watermark and creative advancement in a field with narrow guard rails that can inadvertently prize stagnation. Let's hope that the loss of two essential members of the Wormrot team doesn't stop this encouraging forward movement dead in its tracks.