14th October 2016 – Earache Records
01. Blockhead Fuck Off
02. Hollow Roots
03. Exit Fear
04. God’s in his Heaven
05. Oblivious Mess
06. Descending Into The Unknown
07. Dead Wrong
08. Fallen Into Disuse
09. The 1st World Syndrome
10. Shallow Standards
11. Fake Moral Machine
12. Forced Siege
13. Take Aim
14. Still Irrelevant
15. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Grind
16. Compassion Is Dead
17. Buried The Sun
19. The Face Of Disgrace
Rather terrifyingly, 2017 will be the 30th anniversary of Napalm Death‘s Scum, a record widely accepted to be the genesis for grindcore. The genre has come a long way since then, but not without its detractors. Though a reading of grindcore as being a little thin on ideas ignores the Anaal Nathrakhs, the Pig Destroyers and the Cattle Decapitations, it’s not hard to see why outsiders view grindcore with a wry smile at best.
Sneering critics are largely wrong about grindcore. Grind has always prided itself on making violent, barely-cohesive music within strict genre guidelines – but for a subgenre based around unrelenting noise, there’s plenty of variation, even though narrowing down the most visceral elements of hardcore and death metal doesn’t leave a huge amount of breathing space.
So. This is the environment in which seminal Singaporean grind outfit Wormrot release their third record Voices. They inhabit a similar space to Insect Warfare in the grind canon, making unrelenting music with a ferocity a step above their peers whilst clearly working in an identifiable grind framework. They could easily have released something similar to second album Dirge, which has a clear progression from Abuse, their 2009 debut; indeed, there are hordes of fans who hope that this is the case.
However, Wormrot have noticeably and rather surprisingly expanded their sound on this release. Whilst Dirge and Abuse are satisfying, visceral and relentless, a casual listen to Voices reveals a album with a lot more variation and nuance. From the beginning there’s an introduction of new guitar sounds that jump from black metal tremolo rhythms to – sacrilegiously – sections that approach shoegaze. It’s hard to hear tracks like “Hollow Roots” and not be reminded of acts like Deafheaven or the ambient flourishes of Cattle Decapitation’s recent material. Tracks like this flare up throughout the record and the guitars are brought to the forefront for outings such as “Compassion Is Dead“. Later on in the record (notably “Buried The Sun“) there are some cluttered whispered samples which do a pretty good job of being unsettling. In addition there’s a general attention to songwriting that wasn’t present before, apparent in tracks such as “Fallen Into Disuse” and “The Face Of Disgrace” having identifiable intro sections.
Whilst the previous two records did an excellent job of punching you in the chops for about 20 minutes, Voices has a lot more to hang onto, and is a lot more rewarding on multiple listens. There’s a great play between there new elements and pure grind madness; “Still Irrelevant“, a five-second song, has an actual intro section. Bringing the guitar to the forefront not only benefits the floatier sections but enhances the general personality of a lot of the tracks. Crucially though this is still a violent, unforgiving album; it’s just a violent, unforgiving album with potential single cuts (at the time of writing they’ve just released “Fake Moral Machine“).
With this taken into account, there’s a bittersweetness to Voices; it’s neither going to elevate them to the go-to trad-grind band, nor is it perhaps as dramatic a departure as it could have been. As a record in itself, it’s dynamic and exciting as well as brutal, caustic; all the things a grind release should be. It’s also a significant creative leap and a huge risk for Wormrot. With infrequent full-length releases, a sense that we’re moving towards something new is both exciting and frustrating as it may be some time before we experience it again, but I’m not convinced that this is the end of their renewed burst of creativity. This will be a much talked-about record, and it falls to Wormrot to nail their next release as hard as they nailed this.
This isn’t Wormrot’s heaviest album and undoubtedly there will be those disappointed by this. After all, if metal was an Olympic sport then grind would be some kind of 100 meter equivalent, and for those who seek unchained belligerence it’s hard to accept it in half-measures. But fuck – this is Wormrot’s best material and probably the best direction they could have gone in. Death to false grind.